Things Psychotherapists Got Wrong

Is it exclusionary to say I hope all Freethinkers are doing well? [I was actually asked that question by a ‘clever’ detractor.] I am doing well despite that my last post did not do so well. I think the stomach of many could not digest the word “spritiual”. That is OK. I will get right to a new one. [RIght to it? Yep, 4 months later, but I can never be appreciative enough that I am allowed on here.]

From advice often being half-truths, lacking necessary caveats, or just plain wrong, many therapists disguise incompetence through misleading professionalism and, at best, occasional wit. Alright, that sounded kind of mean. But I truly mean it for the sample of therapists used. I have seen them fool many with how they “say it” (watch out for those pithy expressions!) and how they present themselves. Truth and critical thinking are really important to me—especially important when applied to a topic like mental health.

The following has been compiled from friends, family, and some from myself over a ten year span. I will post what could have or, perhaps, should have been said instead in the next post. Like most of health care, including doctors and nurses, they are largely unaccountable entities. Who monitors the advice that they give? Do we think that a popular therapist means that they are more likely to give us good results, or do they just make us feel good? What about solving problems or mood disorders? Most patients don’t understand medicine or psychology, and therapists do their best to come across as professional, affable, and even intellectual.

They can decieve, and they do deceive, but intentionally?  No, I do not think so. I think they fall prey to bad reasoning and stick to what they think works or what must to be true; after all, it is what everyone else believes. But they really haven’t thought this stuff all the way through. I know of very few that have. The few that I come across that do I cherish, and I am always running ideas by them.

  1. “Self-esteem is always without doubt an ‘inside job’.”
  2. “Depression is mismanaged stress.”
  3. “You know what {your_name}’s “problem” always was?”
  4. “I know what makes me happy,” says the patient. Therapist: “No, you were not happy.”
  5. “Were you not ‘enough’?” [Said with glee in hopes of triggering a response.]
  6. “You know what your problem is?” What? “You are not successful.”
  7. “Stereotypes are always wrong. That is why they are stereotypes.”
  8. Personal or Emotional ‘growth’ (which is poorly defined) cannot come from reading research.”  “‘Growth’ can also not come from taking time away from society.”
  9. “If you are still looking for validation, then you are in trouble.”
  10. “The only way to recovery from an addiction is a 12-step approach.”
  11. “Can you get your parents to pay for this?”
  12. “The only thing that matters is how you feel. This is my barometer for determining a successful outcome.”
  13. “You model your behavior [presumably all] from your parents.”
  14. “Your parents [“family dynamics”] are the cause of your problems.”
  15. “You are coming across as a “victim” [said with sharp disapproval and mockery].
  16. “Save yourself first.”

To be clear, this does not mean that all therapists can’t help or don’t know what they are doing. I never said “all” or “always”. I said here are some things that some therapists got wrong, partially wrong, or could have given caveats.

For another topic, if you dive into the research, you willl see how outcomes are measured. The methods used should not give, not to me at least, us much confidence in the results. In fact, the results themselves seem problematic. For example, psychotherapy cannot distinguish efficacy and effectiveness between therapies. This means that any method used to treat a patient is as effective as any other method used. That is not all that worries me though.. for another post.

Why You Should Be Spiritual

What is the purpose of life?  It is to find meaning.  [Viktor Frank]

The title is not a misprint.  Everyone, including atheists, should be spiritual.  It doesn’t matter if we agree or not because we are all spiritual to a certain extent.  The alternative to spirituality is hedonism.  In reality, we seek both.  But the proportion matters.

The way that I mean spirituality has nothing to do with New Age spirituality, mysticism, religion, spirits, ghosts, God, or souls!

Spiritual means when we use our imagination to transcend the here and now and worldly (materialism, praise, etc.) things.

To be sure, this post is about the study of happiness.  Happiness is about getting what we want.  Although happiness and experiencing meaningful things are different things, meaning-making contributes to our happiness in the long run.  We do many meaningful things, such as believing that atheism is accurate, having relationships with others, and pursuing our long-term goals in life.  These all contribute to happiness.  That said, the kind of happiness that fulfills our immediate needs and wants, such as food or getting praise from others, is fleeting.  This is where spirituality comes into the picture.  Spirituality is about obtaining meaning out of life in a certain kind of way—in a way that transcends our immediate needs and wants.  An example of a spiritual activity is realizing our deep connection to nature or that we all originated from the plains of Africa so we derive meaning and satisfaction from this.

Above, when I say the alternative to spirituality is hedonism, this means that if we are not spiritual—deriving meaning from things that transcend our immediate needs and wants—then we are only making ourselves happy by gratification.  I would argue that this is a shallow life indeed.  Atheists, however, do not have the luxury of having religion.  They must seek their own meaning out of life.

At Its Core, Spirituality Isn’t About God

Spiritual is used often without most taking the time to ask what it means.  I have heard many in an attempt to not appear one-dimensional claim that they are spiritual but not religious.  Presumably, this means they ponder the deeper questions but don’t follow strict rules.  If we are materialists and do not believe in the soul or the spirit, we are free to throw out any references to the immaterial.  Religion has a restricted view of spirituality because it must include belief in God.  Here is a Catholic’s view:

Spirituality is living the mystery of Christ, becoming like him, being filled with grace and the Holy Spirit. It applies the Gospel to Christian Life. A spiritual person will attempt to make every action and interior thought align with the Gospel.

This definition is problematic if we are materialists and do not believe in the divinity of Christ.  Astute observers, however, have noted that there is something common in all forms of spirituality, which exists within every culture. Spirituality is anything that transcends the ordinary and brings meaning to our lives.  This is more inclusive.  Atheists, like everyone else, have a yearning for things beyond themselves.  This is important because happiness in itself is not enough to live a satisfying life.  Although we can conclude this for ourselves, we need some evidence.  We can turn to researchers who shed new light on old concepts.

Meaning Can Help with Happiness 

Transcendence is the highest and most inclusive or holistic levels of consciousness, behaving and relating, as ends rather than means, to oneself, to significant others, to others in general, to other species, to nature, and to the cosmos. [Abraham Maslow]

The definition of spirituality has two parts to it: transcendent and meaning.  When we say something is transcendent, we mean that it goes beyond worldly things like status attainment, materialism, and self.  When we transcend normal awareness, we are not in a judgmental or adversarial state of mind but rather see others for what we have in common with them.  Transcendence means that we recognize that we are a smaller part of a greater whole, say part of a community or the human race.  It gives us that sense of awe and oneness when contemplating our relationship to nature or recognizing that we all ultimately came from, say stardust.

Whatever we do to be spiritual, it must be meaningful to us.  Meaning is derived from doing, thinking, or belonging to things greater than ourselves and often reflects our identity and values (i). Values are about how we should behave.  If we think about it, values mostly serve our own interests.  In order for meaning to transcend the self, then we need virtues.  Virtues are values that serve humanity. The virtues that are found in all cultures include gratitude, humility, forgiveness, hope, wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance. If we follow these virtues, we experience meaningful life events by connecting with and helping others.

Happiness without meaning characterizes a relatively shallow, self-absorbed or even selfish life, in which things go well, needs and desires are easily satisfied, and difficult or taxing entanglements are avoided. [Roy Baumeister]

Notice how the ego is absent from virtue.  The ego wants to advance, satisfy its needs and wants, and seek praise.  Happiness can fuel the ego because it is about getting what we want.  When researchers study happiness, it is broken down into the presence of positive feelings, a lack of negative feelings, and life satisfaction.  Short-term happiness is often in conflict with meaning-making. For example, suffering hinders happiness, but we reflect afterward and make meaning out of it.  We learn from suffering, can assist others with our experience, and it becomes part of “our story”.  In the long run, meaning can bring us happiness and satisfaction.

Acquiring Truth Is a Spiritual Pursuit

According to Maslow, self-transcendence brings the individual what he termed “peak experiences” in which they transcend their own personal concerns and see from a higher perspective. These experiences often bring strong positive emotions like joy, peace, and a well-developed sense of awareness (Messerly, 2017).

Hopefully, we are thinking about what we do that goes beyond our careers and satisfying our needs and wants.  I am satisfied with doing what I enjoy for its own sake, which is pursuing truth and knowledge.  This may seem like a selfish activity, but it is not entirely. Thinking and feeling, which is what we do when we acquire, share, and reflect upon truth, are verbs.  Although our society believes that we have to produce to be of any use, there is much benefit to oneself and others when we acquire truth and knowledge (ii).

If we read about the human condition, for example, then we will gain knowledge that can serve a purpose.  When we learn how human nature works, then we will develop realistic expectations towards others and ourselves.  We can show acceptance and understanding instead of fear and judgment.  Part of engaging in meaningful activities is to connect with others, which is only possible if we show empathy.  We further connect with others when we share our knowledge, which can inspire and enlighten us.

But does the pursuit of truth and knowledge qualify as being spiritual?  I certainly transcend the here and now and become deeply satisfied, even moved, when I gain insight.  Whenever I obtain insight, I make sure it integrates nicely with my background knowledge.  If it does not, then it is ad hoc.  I may have to alter my framework to get a fit, but when it fits, eureka!  I recall time periods when radical insights caused shifts in how I view myself, others, and the cosmos.  Through time I have refined those ideas, always vigilant for a more accurate model to make sense out of the world.  For me, these insights often occurred after misfortune.

For many, suffering can entail failure, rejection, or depression.  I have obtained satisfactory answers for why these things have happened to me and why they happen to us in general.  When we understand how things work, this allows us to more easily accept suffering or to mitigate it.  When we suffer, we create meaning from it.  We do this by understanding how it ensues, making it purposeful, and then weaving a narrative out of it.  For example, depression is the body retreating from a failure to get what we want.  It occurs when attempts made to advance or to be sufficiently valued are thwarted; our endeavors become a “failed struggle”. The body withdraws until we get on a more fruitful path.  This explanation is meaningful, and it gives purpose to our suffering.

Are We Missing Something Without God?

Yes, I think we are.  I think God, amongst other things, helps us to cope when we are powerless and to face death.  I, however, explained earlier that truth and knowledge are virtuous to me.  As far as I can tell, a personal God is a human creation, who acts as a sort of father-like attachment figure.  Until there is evidence or good reasoning for his existence, I cannot compromise my virtues (iii).  I cannot get myself to believe in something that is likely untrue.  As Bertrand Russell said, “Either something is true or it isn’t. If we cannot tell if something is true, then we should suspend judgment.  If it is true, then we should believe it.”  Psychologists have known for decades that we function best when we approach life realistically.  For some, God is still needed to help them cope.

My Grandfather became an atheist when he asked why would a benevolent God allow his daughter to suffer from a terminal disease.  But in his last days, he became religious, especially after my grandmother died.  If we can imagine aging to the point where people who we love and miss disappear, where we would do anything to hear their voices one last time, knowing that they exist in heaven must be comforting.  I do not know how I will cope when loved ones perish, or when I find myself alone in assisted living with strangers.  In these events, I don’t fault people for seeking support from God who supposedly has their best interests.

There is no place, however, for the atheist to go, no refuge for when life is nearing the end.  When we belong to a religion, we share values, which bind us in a significant way.  We can admire religion for creating a sense of belonging while catering to the sick and paying tributes to the dead.  On the other hand, religion claims to provide the why while science provides the how (v).  It touts to provide meaning and answers to why we are here and what happens after death.  Their answers turn out to be unsatisfying and wrong. There is no evidence for an afterlife and the why question is poorly construed.  We have no ultimate cosmic purpose.

Thus, it is our responsibility to create meaning out of life.  If we are going to make meaning, then why not find meaningful pursuits that society holds in high regard.  This will not only increase our happiness, but if we act virtuous, we can focus on maximizing the flourishing of everyone.  We need only ask ourselves how we want to be remembered, smug and self-centered or altruistic and purposeful.  Since atheists do not have an extensive network of non-believers—no central “church”—it is dire for them to be spiritual.

Addendum & Notes

Here’s an example of creating meaning out of death.  If we reflect on the fact that we, the people that we love, and the meaning we’ve created will cease to exist one day, this can bring suffering.  Tyson has made meaning out of this by giving death a purpose. Its purpose is to make us have gratitude for life, to create a sense of urgency for moral behavior, and to live a satisfying life.

It is the knowledge that I’m going to die that creates the focus that I bring to being alive; the urgency of accomplishment; the need to express love; now, not later. If we live forever, why ever even get out of bed in the morning? Cause you always have tomorrow. That’s not the kind of life I want to lead. [Neil deGrasse Tyson]

i). Researchers view meaning as two separate parts—a motivational part or purposeful and a cognitive part which allows us to make sense of what we do and integrate it into the past, present, and future.

Years of research on the psychology of well-being have demonstrated that often human beings are happiest when they are engaged in meaningful pursuits and virtuous activities.” Indeed, when we are deeply engaged in an activity that is in accordance with our best self, we often report the highest levels of life satisfaction. [Todd Kashdan]

Meaningful pursuits are done for a purpose say to pursue our long-term goals.  These goals are best chosen to be what society chooses as noble to assist it in becoming a source of pride.  We can still gain meaning from activities that have value to us, which often occur when we do them for their own sake and not for the outcome.  But it can also be about derived meaning in which we make something purposeful.  I gave an example of how we by understanding how things work, say experiencing depression, give it a purpose and no longer make it feel like we suffered for no reason at all.  Tyson derived meaning as well from above.

ii). Be warned though since when we acquire knowledge, there is a risk of us becoming smug, as in we know something that others don’t.  We must approach gaining knowledge with humility because the job is never done.

iii) My bookshelf and Kindle are filled with dozens upon dozens of theist and atheist arguments for or against God.  If we view the evidence neutrally and suspend our own biases, it is difficult to come to any conclusion other than non-existence.  Over seventy percent of philosophers are atheists.  I am inclined to think that they know the stock arguments all too well.  Seventy percent is a huge number considering the population purports atheism to be around 10%.  A proportion of seventy percent of a sub-population of people who devote themselves to truth and knowledge all reaching the conclusion that God doesn’t exist is quite telling.

iv) I have other personal reasons for not liking the idea of a God.  For example, bringing God into the universe as an explanation seems to make a mockery out of truth and knowledge.  Belief in God also trivializes, as well as makes it inexplicable, why there is unnecessary suffering amongst many people (even animals) across the globe.  I am not talking about suffering from failure, rejection, or depression.  If these issues are not pervasive and grave, then they are tolerable, and we grow from them.  On the other hand, there are many people that get inflicted with diseases that cut their lives short and they never get to recover and weave meaning out of their experiences.

v) Theology and science have traditionally been thought of as different spheres of knowledge, each answering their own questions.  They have their own epistemology—how we know what we know—and constitute different metaphysics—what is the ultimate nature of the cosmos.  The problem is that they overlap and the claims that theology makes can be tested through the scientific method.  Prayer, for example, is about God changing the course of affairs in the universe.  This represents a valid domain for science.  Repeatedly, however, prayer has yielded statistically insignificant results, which means that any observed effect in the prayer group compared to the control group was due to chance and did not represent a real effect.

The Fine-Tuning Narrative

I spent my vacation in upstate New York in a cabin on a lake contemplating the big questions.  If anyone has been able to follow the past few posts, then this is a continuation.  Intelligent designers, who include many physicists, say that the fine-tuning of the universe and its origin would not be possible if we didn’t believe a God did it.  Scientists do not know why the constants in the laws of physics are the values they are instead of some other values.  But they do know that it cannot be due to physical necessity because we can alter the laws and still create universes.  Just not universes that allow for life.  It cannot be due to chance, at least not according to half of the physicists, because the probability of us getting our constants and not some others is extremely small.

At least that is the standard narrative given.  Of course, I had to determine what was behind this, which is what I do for all posts.  I went over all of the nuances of each side’s argument and spent countless hours in email exchanges with experts in cosmology, statistics, and the philosophy of science.  I also, albeit reluctantly, embraced Bayes’ theorem, so I could speak their language.  And despite my bias toward naturalism, I remained neutral throughout my research.  In fact, it was a rollercoaster of a ride where at times I would be convinced by either side.  If it were not for recalling how real science is done, I would have advised atheists to keep silent on the topic.  To my surprise, my conclusion is that the practice of fine-tuning is not only theologically motivated but metaphysical. I assumed the findings were “scientific”.  Although there is nothing wrong with asking questions about what could have been, the assumptions used in calculating fine-tuning are likely obscuring what is actually behind it all.  

[This can be used as an accurate reference to understanding how physicists argue fine-tuning.  If we want to know why aspects of fine-tuning are not scientific, then we can infer for ourselves here or wait until the next post.  I will also be including an argument demonstrating that fine-tuning is compatible with naturalism.  This is not a contradiction since life is sensitive to the universe’s parameters.  I reject the metaphysical methodology of fine-tuning, but I do not reject that life depends on the universe’s parameters.  Furthermore, the public debate is not over whether or not the constants need to be just so in order to permit life as we know it but rather about interpreting what a fine-tuned universe can tell us about the true nature of the universe.]

The Obstacle of Fine-Tuning

Sir Fred Hoyle

Are we really this obnoxious?   Atheist Sir Fred Hoyle. [5]

A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a superintellect has monkeyed with physics, as well as with chemistry and biology, and that there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature. [5]

The above is from an atheist physicist who was instrumental to many findings in cosmology.  Hoyle was against the idea that the universe may have a beginning to the point that he labeled it as the “big bang”.  This was out of mockery since Genesis I predicts that the universe has a beginning.   The evidence for fine-tuning may not have been enough to reverse his atheism, but it did make him favor the theory of intelligent design by aliens.  The point is that the evidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life is convincing to many and poses an obstacle to naturalism.  It is a challenge because according to many physicists, the universe was just as easily likely to have another set of laws with constants as its current set of laws.  But any laws but our own would not permit life. Physicists do not know why we have our constants because nothing more fundamental can explain them.  They are of course required for the math to work.  As the intelligent designers say, it is as if some agent dialed in these constants to permit life.

But what exactly does it mean to fine-tune the universe?  This means that the constants within the laws of physics take on values that allow for life on Earth to be possible.  They cannot vary by much and still permit life.  For example, the cosmological constant is fine-tuned to one part in 10^90 or 1/10^90.  If it were any smaller, then the universe would have collapsed within one second upon its creation, or any larger, and the “structure formation would cease after 1 second, resulting in a uniform, rapidly diffusing hydrogen and helium soup” [1].  Examples like this also exist for other life-permitting constants, which include the electromagnetic, weak, and strong forces, two constants for the Higgs field, twelve fundamental particle masses relative to the Higgs field, and more (3).

The calculated entropy implies that out of the many possible ways the available mass and energy of the universe could have been configured at the beginning, only a few configurations would result in a universe like ours. Thus, as Paul Davies observes, “The present arrangement of matter indicates a very special choice of initial conditions.” [In fact, the arrangement had to be so precise that its fine-tuning would be 1 in 10^(10 raised again to 123) [5].

The fine-tuning of the universe that allows life not only requires fine-tuned constants, but it also requires other parameters to be configured just so.  Any physical system, including our universe, has parameters, boundaries, and initial conditions.  These initial conditions include specific configurations of mass, energy, and entropy.  For example, if the matter in the universe was a bit different, then the matter would clump together and cause only black holes to exist, resulting in no stable galaxies or stars.  In the beginning stages of the universe, its expansion rate would have been a function of its density, which had a value of 10^24 kilograms per cubic meter.  If the density differed by more than 1 kilogram per cubic meter, then galaxies never would have been created [5].  Some have disputed which measurements are to be qualified as fine-tuned and how fine-tuned they are, but no one denies that life is sensitive to its parameters.  In other words, if the constants were somewhat different, we would not be here.

We need to define fine-tuning and the fine-tuning argument and clarify what we mean by constants, laws, and universes.

  • Fine-tuning: when something, e.g., a parameter with a numerical value (constants in the laws of physics), requires a certain degree of precision to get an effect (life) such that anything outside of this precision or range ceases to get an effect (life)
  • Fine-tuning-argument: the proposition that life-permitting universes are rare from the set of possible universes
  • Constants: the values, sometimes with units and other times without, that are physically derived through measurement and found within the laws of physics.  The constants are measurements of mass-energy and are required for the laws to make accurate predictions about the behavior of energy and matter.
  • Laws of Physics: The following dynamical equations are used to describe the universe: Friedmann-Lemaître-Robertson-Walker metric and General Relativity, the Standard Model Lagrangian, and quantum field theory [1].
  • Universe: a connected region of spacetime over which physics is effectively constant. [2]

The Philosophy Behind It All

If we assume that the physical constants in our laws of nature are brute facts, then that is the same thing as saying that they took the values that they happen to have for no reason at all from among the set of metaphysically possible values. [6]

Since there is no physical explanation for why the constants take on the values that they do, we are left with our imagination.  When we imagine the possibilities of something, then we are doing philosophy.  The type of philosophy where we ask what could have been is modal logic.  Modal logic includes concepts such as physical, logical, epistemic, and metaphysical possibilities along with possible worlds and brute facts.  This gets complicated fairly quickly, so we will keep it simple.  Something that is logically possible means that there are no contradictions of terms within sentences.  For example, it is logically possible that a unicorn exists although it is not physically possible.  It is not, however, logically possible for a married man to be a bachelor.  Although metaphysics is about the nature of something, metaphysically possible is what could have been actual.  An actual world is the total state of affairs that actually exists, while a possible world is the complete way things could have been.  Something is physically possible if it is metaphysically possible given the laws of physics in that universe.  Finally, a state of affairs is an arrangement of things [6].

With some degree of confidence, we can calculate what the universe would be like with different fundamental constants. [1]

Most philosophers label fine-tuning as a brute fact or contingent.  This means that something is true by virtue of the way things are but also could have been otherwise.  Contingent facts must be true in at least one world but not all and do not entail logical necessity.  By contrast, metaphysical necessity is something that must be true in all possible worlds and could not have been otherwise.  When we use our imagination toward how something could have been different, we create a possible world, which is a complete description of what could have been.  When physicists use the laws of physics with different values for the constants, they are creating metaphysically possible worlds.  However, the literature is not consistent since philosophers and scientists do not all agree on the definitions.  The physicist Paul Davies claims that physicists can only create laws for logically possible universes but not for physically possible ones.  We cannot tell which universes are physically possible only that the laws are physically possible.

Recall that the constants are fine-tuned because if they are any different, then the universe is no longer life-permissible.  Since we are the product of life-permitting conditions, then it should not be surprising that we observe life-permitting conditions.  This is the weak anthropic principle.  Philosophers, however, are asking a different kind of question.  Why do we have our constants and not some other constants?  How do we go about conceptualizing this problem?  How do we know, for example, that the universe could have been different?  Maybe we do not think physicists are justified in simply changing the constants and labeling our universe a logically possible universe.  Perhaps the universe with its constants is a necessary truth and just is.  None of this seems to matter because most are motivated to ask questions that require there to be different possibilities.  This quickly becomes a challenge.

The Probability Behind It All

There are no actual possibilities besides our own universe since we do not observe how frequently universes in nature end up with certain constants.  So physicists use our universe and the logically possible universes that they have created.  Now that we have different possibilities we can now ask what could it have been.  This requires probability theory.  There are multiple ways of interpreting probability, but we look at epistemic versus frequentist-classical.  Classical probability uses the principle of indifference to claim that each event is equally likely to occur.  So each event has a probability of 1/n, where n is the number of possible outcomes in the probability space.  If we take a coin and toss it indefinitely, then we will get a ratio of head to tales that will converge to 50%.  This is the law of large numbers, which allows the classical interpretation to be equivalent to the frequency method in the long run.  A frequency interpretation is a physical probability that is objective since it captures something about the physical world. This interpretation is what we intuitively understand to be what probability means and is also what most scientists use.

We are concerned with the apparent intractability of obtaining a probability distribution for the various possible universes that might have existed, since in standard probability theory any such distribution cannot simultaneously satisfy three desiderata: that it be defined across the entire logical space of possible universes; that it be Euclidean, assigning equal probabilities to equal intervals for each constant; and that it be normalizable under the constraint of countable additivity. [4]

The philosophy of different possibilities from above addressed the problem of how we imagine universes.  Bayesian probability is how we deal with situations where events may have only occurred once and are not physical probabilities.  These are epistemic since they are degrees of belief that we hold of how likely something is or is not true.  These are thought of as subjective probabilities but only in the sense that they stem from an individual.  If physical frequency probability data is available, then this could be used as a source in the calculation.  Typically when we use physical probabilities, we want to be sure that they obey the laws of probability theory.  This would include being normalizable, where the sum of the probabilities is unity, as well as having the property of countable additivity, which means that we must be able to count and add the probabilities of events that are mutually exclusive.  Despite the challenges that the above quote from Timothy & Lydia McGrew poses to the physicists, they claim they can calculate the probability of life-permitting universes from the set of possible universes.  They must jump through some hurdles first.

Both of the sets that Barnes and Collins use are finite, so we would  end up with either multiple inconsistent probability estimates or an arbitrary partition. [6]

The physicists assume that the constants can take on any real numbered value, creating a new set of laws that constitute a logically possible universe.  They choose an equally likely or uniform probability distribution, invoking the principle of indifference since the field of physics offers no information on which values are more or less likely to occur.  Since there is an infinite amount of values that the constants could become, this would make it not normalizeable (sum to unity).  To get out of this problem, they must truncate the possible values that the constants could take on.  This only creates another problem called the partition problem.  Choosing any particular partition of the constants, however, would appear arbitrary and would alter the probability assignments in an arbitrary way. They must justify the use of a unit to divide the space.  This unit even if justified would still create inconsistent probability assignments. This shortcoming, claims the philosopher Wallace, is applicable to the work of Luke Barnes and Robin Collins [6].

Countable additivity provides a way of modeling important basic principles of rational consistency, and this is not merely desirable but necessary in a well-rounded conception of epistemic probability. [4]

The physicist Luke Barnes’ solution is to use units of Plank since the laws of physics break down after certain values which will create the needed partition.  This is not necessarily an arbitrary choice since it is informed by the laws themselves, and Barnes claims that does not follow logical or metaphysical possibility.  If it does not follow logical or metaphysical possibility, then we cannot justify how to conceptualize the possible universes.  In the end, physicists claim that when they use epistemic probabilities they can replace the countable additivity requirement with the relaxed condition of finite additivity.  They justify this by appealing to Cox-Jayne’s, and de Finetti’s theories and the subjective nature of epistemic probability [2].  Although physicists routinely deal with similar problems when working with infinite uniform distributions, which is known as the measurement problem, this may not matter. This is because they make claims using epistemic probability, see quote, which affects whether or not the results will be logical.

The Bayesian Method Behind It All

Bayes’ theorem, and indeed, its repeated application in cases where the probabilities are known with confidence, is beyond mathematical dispute. [3]

We need to talk about Bayes’ theorem in order to speak the language of the physicists and debaters.  Bayes’ theorem is a conclusion from a conditional probability axiom.  It is a way to update our current knowledge of how likely something is true by taking into account our best estimate of what happens after we observe the evidence.  It can be used to not only predict the chances of a physical event occurring given some knowledge but also the likelihood of claims that deal with more complex states (i). In other words, we can use Bayes’ theorem in accordance with propositional logic to get an idea of how likely everyday or even metaphysical claims are.  For example, we may state the claim that naturalism is true given that fine-tuning is true.  Although there is no consensus on how to interpret probability, we think of these events or states of reality in terms of degrees of uncertainty and not as frequencies.  A frequency interpretation of probability is when we observe the long-term behavior of physical events.  If we, for example, flip a coin many times, it will average out to a probability of 50%.  This is how scientists interpret probability.  Despite this difference, Bayesians can still use a frequency source as their uncertainty.  When we use Bayes’ theorem, we will be using it to assess the strength of evidence in favor or against a hypothesis, which we call evidential probability.  The theorem is shown below.

Equation 1: Baye’s Theorem

P(H|E) = P(H)*P(E|H) / P(E) 

It says, starting from P(H|E), that the probability of the hypothesis being true given the evidence is equal to the probability of the hypothesis being true multiplied by the probability that the evidence is true given the hypothesis, which is all divided by the probability of the evidence.  These uncertainties or probabilities have names associated with them.  P(H) is the prior probability that can be thought of as how typical the hypothesis is, P(E|H) is the likelihood probability or how expected the evidence is given that our hypothesis is true, and P(E) is the marginal likelihood, which is the probability of the evidence.  Interestingly, this way of interpreting Bayes corresponds with the argument to the best explanation, or ABE, a form of abductive reasoning.  We will be using the specific hypothesis, from equation 2 below, of the probability of naturalism being true given fine-tuning is true.  The prior is the probability of naturalism being true, the likelihood is the probability of either observing fine-tuning given naturalism is true or how expected is fine-tuning on naturalism, while the marginal is the probability of fine-tuning being true.  Using the law of total probability, P(F) can also be written as shown.  Although we can compare our hypotheses to others, see P(F’), we will not have a need for this.

Equation 2: Baye’s Theorem

P(N|F) = P(N)*P(F|N) / P(F) 

P(F) = P(N) x P(F|N) + P(~N) x P(F|~N)
P(F’) = P(N) * P(F|N) + P(H2)* P(F |H2) + P(H3)* P(F |H3) + …

P(N|F) > P(N) if and only if P(F|N) > P(F), then evidence is in favor of hypothesis
P(N|F) < P(N) if and only if P(F|N) < P(F), then evidence is against hypothesis

  • Posterior probability P(N|F): the probability of the hypothesis of Naturalism being true given Fine-tuning
  • Prior probability P(N): How plausible is Naturalism prior to observing the Fine-tuning
  • Likelihood probability P(F|N): the uncertainty of observing Fine-tuning given that Naturalism is true
  • Marginal probability P(F): the uncertainty of the evidence of Fine-tuning

Equation 3, below, is a statement about probability using Bayesian statistics.  Bayesian statistics allows physicists to work with probability distributions.  Thus far, we have been assuming that Bayes’ theorem inputs point probabilities; for example, P(B|A) = 0.5, where the probability takes on a single value.  The main difference is that these events can take on ranges of different probabilities and are called random variables.  A more detailed explanation is provided in the notes.  The equation uses the law of total probability since an integral is a summation, and marginalizes over the constant α while treating them as nuisance parameters [1].  Marginalizing removes the α event or parameter, and we are left with the probability that the Data is true given that the physical Theory (laws of physics) and the Background information are true.  Throughout the calculations, physicists assume methodological naturalism but not naturalism.  The Data D is the same as the fine-tuned universe, F, that permits life and since Naturalim N does not affect anything, then we can plug in N and replace D with F.  The result is P(F|TBN) or simply P(F|N), which if we use equation 2, is the value that theists argue is very small.  In fact, the physicist Luke Barnes claims by multiplying all the constants’ likelihoods, we end up with a value of 10^-136.  Since P(F|N) < P(F), then P(N|F) < P(N), which means that the posterior is less than the prior.  When this occurs, then our evidence of fine-tuning does not support naturalism.  Theists believe that they have a slam dunk.

Equation 3: Bayesian Statistics

P(D|TB) = ∫p(D|αTB)p(α|TB) dα

  • Where α is the value of the constant and the integral is computed over the range R of the constant.
  • This gives us the definition of a fine-tuned value which will be a very small value.

Theists’ Conclusion

  • It can be shown that P(D|TB) is the same thing as P(F|N), which is the likelihood of fine-tuning given Naturalism.
  • Theists take the small value of P(F|N) and insert it into equation 2.
  • Since P(F|N) << 1 and < P(F), then P(N|F) < P(N).
  • Thus, the evidence of fine-tuning is against the hypothesis of Naturalism.

The Math Behind It All

When calculating fine-tuned values, our background does not give us any info about which possible world is actual. The physicist can explore models of the universe mathematically, without concern for whether they describe reality. [2]

At this stage, we are ready to do the actual calculation of a fine-tuned value.  We have learned that modal logic can help us to imagine possible universes and probability theory can help us to create a probabilistic statement.  Fine-tuning is the probability of life-permissible universes out of the set of possible universes in such a way that the universes acquire their constants for no particular reason at all.  This makes it a brute fact.  We claim this is true because physicists have no problem creating logical universes by varying the values of the constants.  When they do so, the universes outside of a tight range do not allow for life to exist.  We then learned that there are different interpretations of probability.  We must use an epistemic interpretation which is Bayesian.  Do not get confused because there are two calculations.  The first one uses Bayesian statistics to predict the likelihood of fine-tuning (Equations 3, 4), which is literally a fine-tuned value, while the second one (Equation 2) uses Bayes’ theorem to predict that fine-tuning is not compatible with naturalism.  Intuitively, we can think of fine-tuned values as a ratio of life-permitting universes to possible universes (vastly more non-life-permitting).  Does the denominator contain the constants that non-life-permitting equations have used?  Not necessarily.  This is a mathematical model that serves the abstract purpose of claiming that “if a universe were chosen at random from the set of universes, what is the probability that it would support intelligent life[1].” 

A quantity is fine-tuned in physics when there is no theoretical reason for it to take the value that it has but it must take something close to a very specific value to get the observed outcome. [6]


How to compute a fine-tuned value.

Eq. 4: How to compute a fine-tuned value [2], (vii).

The analysis of the assumptions going into the paradox indicates that there exist multiple ways of dealing consistently with uniform probabilities on infinite sample spaces. Taking a pluralist stance towards the mathematical methods used in cosmology shows there is some room for progress with assigning probabilities in cosmological theories. [7]

Let us try to use the formula above for what the density of the universe was at the time of the Big Bang, which was 10^24 kg/m^3 +/- 1 kg/m^3.  R = 10^24 +/- 1 and Δα = (10^24 + 1) – (10^24 – 1) = 2.   We get 2/(10^24 + 1).  If we change the constant α, but only within the narrow interval of α = +/- 1, then we get life-permissible universes.  p(D|IαTB) is equal to one only around Δα and zero elsewhere.  p(α|TB) is the prior probability which is the uniform distribution that expresses our indifference to what the parameter of the constants looks like, which is dα/R.  What we are doing is calculating the area under the curve, where Δα is the width and 1/R is the height.  The literature quotes a value of 1/10^24, which is approximately equal to our calculation.  If we think of the denominator as the possible values that are non-life-permissible universe can take, is it true that we have models that create universes within the range of 0 to 10^24 + 1?  By restricting the comparison range to finite, as done here, the problem of “course” fine-tuning results [4].  Setting the upper bound to 10^24 + 1 and not considering the other possible values seems arbitrary.  Because if the parameter is genuinely a free parameter, it should take an infinite number of values in the denominator, which would lead to a probability of zero.  The current status of dealing with these types of problems is quoted above.  Even if the math seems tenuous and it affects the conclusion of the argument, perhaps its intuitive appeal is why it is not questioned amongst physicists.

Coming Up Next…

Here, I presented the fine-tuning argument from the perspective of one who believes in fine-tuning with minimal critique.  In the next post, I will explain my thesis of why it is minimally scientific.  I will also present a Bayesian argument by Jeffreys and Ikeda which will prove that fine-tuning is possible under naturalism.  This may sound like a contradiction, but it is not.  The constants that we have do seem to allow for life to flourish.  But this does not mean that God has set the dial.  


(i) We may think that the conditions of the universe are a garden-variety set of conditions.  Maybe life could have evolved in any particular conditions.  Presently, we do not know if non-carbon-based life is possible.  The point is that life as we know it depends upon the universe’s laws of physics being just so.  But is it the other way around; that is, is life fine-tuned for the universe?  We can answer this by noticing the arrows of influence.  The universe’s values do not depend upon the parameters of life, but life’s parameters depend upon the parameters of the universe.  Fine-tuning means that there are precise parameters such that a small deviation would result in a loss of an effect (life).  Would changing the parameters in a biological organism affect the universe’s parameters?  No.  Then the universe is fine-tuned for life, not vice versa.

(ii) There are two types of constants, either physical or mathematical.  A physical constant involves an actual measurement, while mathematical constants do not.  The value of pi, 3.14 and on, is an example of a mathematical constant that results from the geometric properties of a circle.  Physical constants occasionally can be derived mathematically but all have been adjusted through measurement.  They further can be divided into either dimensional or dimensionless.  The speed of light and the gravitational constant, for example, values vary depending upon the choice of units that are used.  When calculating fine-tuning, the preference is to use dimensionless constants, which can be created by taking a ratio of constants.  This is because changing the unit can artificially give us large values compared to a different unit.  Lastly, these fundamental constants are all a part of the standard model of particle physics and the standard model of cosmology.  These constants cannot be derived from anything more fundamental.

(ii) There are of course some who have objected as to which constants should qualify as fine-tuned or to the degree that the fine-tuning exists.  Regardless, it is a fact that life as we know it depends upon the constants existing within some range.  In the future, we may discover that other elements and states of material energy are conducive to life.  However, Victor Stenger, an atheist particle physicist dissenter of fine-tuning, may also be correct.  He claims that the constants, as far as I can tell, most if not all, are not as fine-tuned as they are defined to be.  Stenger says that “fine-tuning is in the eye of the beholder”.  In reviewing his work, it seems plausible, and he provides what may be adequate support.  But his peers are to judge, not me.  Depending on who we ask, Stenger is either considered mainstream (by atheists) or in the company of “only a handful of dissenters” (by Luke Barnes).  In any event, it does not matter because even Stenger says “life depends sensitively on the parameters of our universe.”  These constants matter.

(iv) We still need to understand another application for Bayes’ theorem, which allows us to assign probabilities to many observations. The eventsuch as the different heights of individuals in a population, is now a random variable and can take on many different values, each one having its own probability of occurring.  When we display the distribution of the differing heights’ probability, this is known as a probability distribution.  Since it is not practical to measure the entire population, we take a few samples from a larger population in order to make generalizations about it.  We do this by estimating the parameter, which is supposed to represent the “true value” of the larger population.  This approach, which is frequentism, cannot give us the probability of the parameter though, only confidence intervals for where it may exist.  For that, we need Bayesian statistics.  In this approach, we show our uncertainty of the parameter’s value by making it a random variable of a probability distribution.  We then update our uncertainty of the parameter’s value by multiplying the prior distribution times the likelihood distribution and marginalizing the result.  The prior is the distribution of the parameter before we observed the data, and the likelihood is the distribution of the observed data, given the parameter.


[1] Barnes, Luke.  A Reasonable Little Question: A Formulation of the Fine-Tuning Argument
[2] Barnes, Luke.  Fine-tuning in the context of Bayesian theory testing
[3] Lynch, Scott. Introduction to Applied Bayesian Statistics and Estimation for Social Scientists
[4] McGrew, Timothy & Lydia.  On the Rational Reconstruction of the Fine-Tuning Argument
[5] Myers, Stephen.  Return of the God Hypothesis.
[6] Waller, Jason. Cosmological Fine-Tuning Arguments.
[7] Wenmackers, Sylvia. Uniform probability in cosmology
[8] Dozens of other sources; will post when time permits.

Practicing Scientists?

[edit: I did not mean to sound exclusive; anyone can chime in of course!]

I could not resist.  I decided to pull out some Victor J. Stenger and other scientists to weigh in on fine-tuning and the origin of the cosmos.  Once I get going on a topic, I cannot stop.  Ideas are like drugs, leaving me wanting more depth and breadth.

Physicists don’t seem to be in agreement on how to interpret the appearance of fine-tuning.  I do not want this to be another piece that confirms someone’s atheism.  I want it to be an evenhanded assessment of the evidence.

So the purpose of this post is to get qualified others to comment on these points before I follow up on a post.

  1. According to Stenger, an example of something not having a cause is radioactive decay and photon emission.  These phenomena are modeled by statistical mechanics and are not predetermined but rather random.  These phenomena have “no evident cause”, and do what they do spontaneously.  Some, however, call this probabilistic causality.  For photon emission, if an electron is in a higher energy state and moves to a lower state, then the emission of a photon occurs.  This looks predetermined to me.  There are plenty of phenomena modeled as stochastic processes that still have causes.  A coin toss, for example, has a random binomial distribution, but it still has a cause.  Can atheists say that these two processes, namely radioactive decay and photon emission, are not deterministic?  I get the feeling that this is an unsettled issue as debate rages if the universe is deterministic or indeterministic.
  2. Is the following true in regard to the topic of the appearance of fine-tuning?  “Constants, such as the speed of light and Planks constant, are irrelevant since these are arbitrary units that define the system of units being used.  Only “dimensionless” numbers that do not depend on units, such as the ratio of the strengths of gravity and electromagnetism, are meaningful.”  Furthermore, these constants are not independent of one another, so if we change one, then we would have to change another.  But constants are inseparable properties of the relationship of interest.  That is, if they are not there, the relationship doesn’t hold true.  How can Stenger claim that they are “irrelevant”?





What Is Behind ID? Just One Premise

I want to show the logic behind why speculating that an intelligent agent created the universe is not an argument from ignorance or the god of the gaps fallacy.  It just turns out that intelligent designers have an additional premise that qualifies it as an argument to the best explanation.  Physicists do the same when they posit an entity to explain observed phenomena.  This does not mean that I believe this hypothesis to be true.  Why is this important then?  Because we will want to be informed when arguing with an ID.  And for those who think that I may be giving credence to Intelligent Designer’s arguments, I would not be threatened by any of this.

Abductive Reasoning

We have only two ways of determining what is true or not, by reasoning or observation.  What about the scientific method?  It obviously involves both reasoning and observation as well as experimentation, hypotheses, verification, and predictions.  There are different types of reasoning that we use when we try to establish something as true or likely to be true, such as deductive and inductive reasoning.  But what if we cannot directly observe something?  If we cannot directly observe something, then we are using abductive reasoning to determine the probability of something being true or not.  Detectives who work a murder case use this type of reasoning as well as archeologists and many others.  But everything is circumstantial because we cannot directly observe what we are hypothesizing.  Here is some abductive reasoning that was used, probably often used, for a suspect that murdered his wife.

  • Observations (Evidence): We notice that the suspect’s house was cleaned meticulously in a possible effort to hide evidence.
  • Expectation (Prediction): If someone was concealing a murder, then we would expect them to attempt to hide the evidence.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): There is reason to suspect that this individual murdered his wife.

This evidence of course is neither strong nor conclusive.  But that’s the best we can do with abductive reasoning.  If we had more evidence to corroborate our hypothesis, then it becomes stronger.  To make it even stronger, we can compare it to the explanatory power of other competing hypotheses.  When the best one wins, then we call this enhancement argument to the best explanation. The best hypothesis must be sufficient to cause the phenomena of interest compared to other hypotheses and have causal adequacy.  The phenomenon of interest for the murder is not the evidence of a coverup but what can be inferred from it.  That is, hiding evidence in itself does not cause a murder but from our everyday experiences, we know that people hide things for a reason.

Scientists’ Reasoning

Stephen Meyer gives a few examples of scientists using this type of reasoning before giving his argument.  Here is how Richard Dawkin’s evidence and others would look when formalizing it to fit abductive reasoning.  We should “get” the logic after this.

Richard Dawkins:

  • “Logic: If “blind, pitiless” matter and energy rather than a Mind is the prime reality from which all else originated, then we would expect no evidence of intelligent design in life and the universe, rather only evidence of apparent design”
  • “Data: Life and the universe do not exhibit evidence of actual design, only apparent design.
  • Conclusion: We have reason to believe that life and the universe are the product of blind materialistic forces.


  • Observations (Evidence): There is background radiation and a value of the mass density of the universe.
  • Expectation (Prediction): If there was a beginning, like the big bang, then we would expect to see that evidence.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): There is reason to suspect that the big bang started the universe.
  • Competing Hypotheses: In light of this evidence, the steady-state and oscillating-universe models lack causal adequacy.

Charles Darwin:

  • Observations (Evidence): There are homologous structures, transitional fossils, evolution recapitulating itself, etc.
  • Expectation (Prediction):  If life evolved, then we would expect to see evidence of this in the fossil record, embryology, etc.
  • Conclusion (Hypothesis): All life forms came from a common descendent.
  • Competing Hypotheses: God, Lakmarck’s theory, etc.

Intelligent Designers’ Reasoning 1

Intelligent designers are essentially doing, in one limited respect, what Charles Darwin did.  Darwin looked at his everyday experiences and deduced that since artificial selection can rapidly produce changes in a species, then natural selection with random mutation can do much more.  Obviously, natural selection needs time, so this reasoning is convincing considering the millions of years it has to work with.  Meyer says that within our everyday experiences we know that it takes an intelligent agent to make the sophisticated things that we come across, snowflakes aside.  This mode of thought makes up the first premise, and this is why it is not a God of the gaps fallacy.  So far I do not disagree with Meyer.  This still does not mean that an intelligent agent is behind it all.

  • Premise 1: Our everyday uniform experiences teach us that any system that has a function requires design inputs, such as digital code and boundary conditions, from an intelligent agent.  Since this is true, then we would expect to find a universe that requires fine-tuning (boundary conditions) and life forms requiring a digital code (DNA base pairs) to exist and function.
  • Premise 2:  We observe that the world is finely tuned with physical laws, constants, and parameters, and all of life requires digital code in the form of DNA base pairs.
  • Conclusion:  We have reason to think that an intelligent agent acted to design the universe and life forms.

A God of the gaps fallacy would preclude premise one and jump from premise two to the conclusion. Does this additional premise prevent ID from being a God of the gaps fallacy?  In the framework of arguments, it does.  This is why I said the argument is not that bad because it obeys a certain logic.  But for all practical purposes, they are still invoking a designer into the argument which resembles a God of the gaps fallacy in every other respect. Although an intelligent agent could be the cause, we would have to compare this causal hypothesis to others.  It cannot, however, be a theist God, namely the Judeo-Christian version because that worldview is false through and through.  I am obviously not going to debunk Christianity here; others have done it for us.

My purpose is not to critique ID’s argument but to explain it.  What makes this argument strong, according to Meyer, is that it is an argument to the best explanation because it has causal adequacy.  It is only an argument to the best explanation because the competing hypotheses from science have failed to be causally adequate. That is, they fail to be likely candidates for the causes of how the information in DNA formed along with an explanation for why the universe appears to be finely tuned with parameters.  Meyer brings up the point that all of the RNA experiments, which could show the origin of information in DNA, thus far are plagued with their setups requiring input from an intelligent agent, such as artificial conditions, etc.  He also brings up that information, which is what DNA conveys, cannot in principle be described by physics or chemistry.  I would need to hear what biologists say about this.

Since natural laws describe situations in which specific outcomes follow specific conditions by necessity, they do not generate, or describe the generation of, new information. Indeed, to the extent a sequence of symbols or a series of events results from a predictable law-bound process, the information content of the sequence will be limited or effaced by redundancy. Thus, natural laws cannot in principle generate or explain the origin of information, whether specified or otherwise. [1]

Can’t Get Something from Nothing

The argument above dealt with the creation of lifeform and the appearance of the fine-tuning of the universe.  What about the beginning of the universe?  If there was a beginning, then how could something come from nothing?  The problem that science faces is that it defines naturalism as a closed system of cause and effect that prevents the supernatural from intervening.  This was never a problem of course and turns out to be a very real and natural metaphysics.  According to Stephen Meyer, it became a problem when atheists realized that there is more evidence in favor of the universe having a beginning than it just always being there.  Meyer says that there must be a cause for the beginning of the universe, but naturalism is not adequate to explain what it is.

What caused the whole of nature or the physical universe itself to come into existence?  All materialistic theories of the origin of the material universe face a fundamental problem given the evidence we have of a cosmic beginning. Before matter and energy exist, they cannot cause, or be invoked to explain, the origin of the material universe. Instead, positing a materialistic process to explain the origin of matter and energy assumes the existence of the very entities—matter and energy—the origin of which materialists need to explain. No truly materialistic explanation can close this particular causal discontinuity or gap—the gap between either nothing or a preexisting immaterial or mathematical reality, on the one hand, and a material universe, on the other. [1]

Sean Carrol, a professor of natural philosophy who is an atheist, says that “naturalism can offer no cause of the universe, but it may ‘just be'”, that is, require no causal explanation.  But this would violate the scientific assumption that “whatever begins to exist must have a cause.”  I do not pretend to even speculate as to how something can come from nothing.  That is not my aim in the post.  It is to show the logic behind ID’s hypothesis.  There is more to their logic too.  For example, Meyer brings up how the current hypotheses offered by atheists, such as the physicist Laurance Krauss, are contrived because they gerrymander the results.  What this means is that the models that they use to explain the origin of the universe require initial conditions and assumptions in order to work.  In other words, they know what fudge factors are required to get the results they would like.  I haven’t explored Krauss’s theory in depth, but I know how models work and don’t doubt it (3).  Perhaps this is the best science can do right now, which is OK.


1) I am intentionally not including intelligent designers’ reasoning under the science category because they don’t really do science.  Making a hypothesis from an armchair may qualify as abductive reasoning, which science uses, but in every other respect, Intelligent Design is not science and only hinders science.  We also know that their ultimate goal is to sneak a theist God in, namely a Judeo-Christian God.  In other words, I am doing my best to be neutral when analyzing their arguments, but I cannot qualify intelligent design as science.  Stephen Meyer would say that this is because of my bias towards metaphysical naturalism.  And I would partly agree.  To this, I would say, naturalism as a worldview is true and works.  Theism as a worldview, especially the Judeo-Christian version, fails on multiple accounts.  No, I don’t have time for a detailed explanation.  I leave this task to other experts.

2) I always thought of metaphysics to be an abstract philosophical concept with no overlap with science.  But science deals with metaphysical questions all the time.  Metaphysics literally means what is real and deals with questions about “being” and “existence”.  An example of a metaphysical question is if a copper wire conducts an accelerating charge that produces an electromagnetic field, how do we know the field is real?  We use abductive reasoning to say that if it were real, we would expect it to have x, y, and z effects.  Metaphysics may take this further and ask if the EM field qualifies as being “real”.  For our purposes, we can adopt an instrumentalist approach and say that if we can predict its behavior, then it is real.  We will use this fact later on.

3) This does not mean that they are not doing science.  Problems require assumptions to be made and conditions to be set.  We do not even have to be cosmologists to realize that replicating a time period billions of years ago will inevitably require some assumptions to be made.  If they make the model unrealistic, then so be it because they may still provide insight into the nature of the problem.   As more knowledge is gained, then the better our models will be.


[1] Return of the God Hypothesis.  Stephen Meyer.

Blind, Pitiless, Indifference

Back from the dead folks.  Somehow someone found out who I was, and this prevented me from a job opportunity.  I feel persecuted.  I think I will eventually be open about my beliefs.  Not an easy thing living where I do.  Here is a post that is old news.  I think it is noteworthy because it is the latest attempt by apologists to keep God alive.  It is actually not that bad of an argument.

The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.  Richard Dawkins

I was in discussion with a believer who referred to Stephen Meyer, the intelligent designer.  Meyer believes that Dawkin’s quote actually makes his case for him.  Here is a quote from his new book.  Yes, I own a copy of his book on Kindle.  Why? Because I committed to myself to understanding all arguments.  Arguments are fun to analyze, especially if they are most likely wrong.

They have argued, as Richard Dawkins has done, that “the universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose . . . nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”  But the evidence examined so far suggests the need to reassess such claims. That the universe had a beginning, that it was finely tuned from the beginning, and that our planet has experienced dramatic discontinuous increases in biological form and information since the beginning are not at all what proponents of a naturalistic worldview would most “naturally” expect. [Return of the God Hypothesis by Meyer]

I agree with Meyer that if framed like this, then Dawkin’s quote works for him and not against him.  But that is only if we accept his premises.  I think Dawkins was mainly referring to the problem of suffering anyhow.  Meyer says that if the cosmos had a beginning, then we can’t use physical explanations to describe how something came out of nothing.  In other words, physics can only explain how matter and energy interact but not how they came into existence.  It must, according to Meyer, be something transcendent. Atheists at one point could claim that the cosmos was all eternal—that is, had probably always existed.  But most evidence now suggests that the cosmos had a beginning.  Of course, we do not have a detailed explanation of the origin of the cosmos.

Laws of nature describe how nature operates and how different parts of nature interact with one another; they don’t cause the natural world to come into existence in the first place. This suggests the futility of waiting for the discovery of some new law of nature or a “theory of everything.” No law of nature can close the causal discontinuity between nothing and the origin of nature itself. [Return of the God Hypothesis by Meyer]

Does this mean that Meyer is using the God of the gap fallacy?  He claims he is not since he uses abductive reasoning, like all of science, to form a hypothesis that explains the evidence.  I think he is correct, and I explain why here.  Besides Meyer claiming that science can’t explain how the universe came into existence, he also complains how science cannot figure out where the information in DNA came from nor explain the appearance of design when it comes to fine-tuning.  The biggest challenge I face as an atheist, however, is explaining to others how the universe came from nothing.  I don’t even attempt it because we don’t know.

What I can attempt to explain is that saying that a transcendental (supernatural) force is behind it all is unwarranted.  I mean you can do it.  Meyer did.  But how does Meyer come to the conclusion that the cause of the universe must be transcendental?  He uses a priori reasoning, not evidence [1].  This does not exclude something from being correct, but it is not as convincing as evidence.  If I suspend my bias and look at the problem squarely, I do not understand why we must think something came from nothing.  The barebones parts to form the universe as it is today, whatever they turn out to be, must have always been there in the first place.

If it turns out that the universe did come from nothing, or appears that way, does this mean that there is a transcendental force behind it?  Maybe.  But we could figure out what that above-and-beyond force is.  But the believers would say that the supernatural is unknowable through direct means.  In fact, my son asked his religious leader, “Who created God?”  His retort was God has no beginning or end.  To me, the supernatural is a mental construct that humans created, in addition to counter-arguments to keep Him being viable as a God.  This is exactly what Meyer is doing here.  We will look at his hypothesis in detail next.  


[1] To be fair, Meyer did use some evidence.  Not much though.  He observed that the world has a beginning, that the origin of DNA has yet to be explained empirically, and that the world may be finely tuned.  He then makes an inference to the best explanation based on these observations.  He says that this is not what we would expect to find if we believed in cause and effect and that there was no intelligent designer behind it all.  Meyer asks where did the informational power of DNA come from, and how did the cosmos become finely tuned?  The answer to these questions is probably found in Meyer’s poor formulation of these problems along with his self-serving premises.  Many others have addressed this elsewhere.  This post is not meant to be exhaustive by any means.

[2]. How do I know God is a mental construct used for multiple purposes?  I cannot address this entirely here, but it should be obvious given the imagination of the mind and how prone it is to anthropomorphism.  The problem with God, or whatever name we choose to use, is that this model cannot make predictions.  We have no idea how the supernatural behaves if we give it x, y, or z inputs.  He is whatever we choose Him to be, and does whatever we want him to do—the bible notwithstanding.

I Have Strong Values (Shush)

Trump and Desantis

Trump and Desantis

Title’s Interpretation: You don’t have values, but if you did, mine are better.

Today I want to bring up a politically-charged conversation that I had with a friend of mine and analyze how it turned into tit-for-tat.  It is not anyone’s job to criticize another person.  But as writers, it is our job to entertain and inform by pointing out faults, usually with sarcasm, ridicule, or mockery.  I won’t be doing any of that today because I like this person.  I will gently, however, point out faults of theirs.  Perhaps I should be tough on them because they are loud and proud about their values and are amused at how sensitive and serious I can get.  In fact, I think they enjoy ruffling my feathers.  To me, she was belligerent and crossed my boundaries.

This is meant to be instructive and not retribution for a gripe.  But, honestly, what do we do when we find out that a friend likes DeSantis or Trump?  Maybe for many, it is not even an issue although doubtful.  What do we do when we find out that Jesus is more important to a loved one than we are?  The former is particularly tough if we think Jesus is a father-like attachment figure who has been passed down as a meme.  This is why I think it is important to be mindful of our speech and tone when conversing with others that have opposing values and viewpoints.  The conversation I had is below, followed up by how I think we should relate to others.

The Conversation (text message)

Melinda: I like DeSantis because he has strong values and military background.  We have many threats abroad and need a strong military presence to protect us.

[People vote on how a candidate makes them feel, which inevitably entails them having similar values, and then back it up with rational reasons so they can appear informed.  This is just how the mind works.  Moreover, conservatives’ values revolve around “strength”, responsibility, self-reliance, order, and authority.  It permeates all of their beliefs and reasoning.  So I can understand why a conservative may be preferred over a liberal as commander in chief.  It is not that liberals do not exercise these values but rather they do not give it the same priority.  For a detailed analysis of all harmful entailments of conservative values, see here.

It may, however, be naive for us to think that other nation-leaders share liberal values which prioritize such things as empathy, equality, self-awareness, and empowering others through assistance.  I like to think that liberals, certainly not all of them, are enlightened thinkers.  They formed at a time during the Enlightenment when there was a realization that conflicting values and beliefs will always exist and that we should do what maximizes the happiness of everyone.  This requires that others have the same political outlook since self-interest and our own values seem to take precedence.  But, in sum, it is natural to like DeSantis for war.

And there are legitimate threats out there.  But conservatives have more of a history of hyping threats, warmongering, and flagrant violations against human rights.  Those who do not think so do not know the history of United States’ foreign policy.  The irony is that those who balk at the idea of us being self-critical are the same people who worship Jesus.  The same Jesus whose writers had him say from Matthew 7 15, “How can you take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye if you can’t take the log out of your own?”  If we value human life, then we must be self-critical of our past as well as resist the urge to engage in preemptive strategies.  This pre-condition that I impose would be less likely to be followed by a conservative leader versus a liberal one.]

Musings:  I once was a conservative and shared some of the same beliefs as you do.  I don’t think you are wrong to share DeSantis’ values, but I do feel there is a lot of American history that I can share with you that may cause you to rethink your position.

[Notice that this is an indirect criticism.  I am saying that she doesn’t know a revisionist’s history of America’s foreign policy.  This probably got her upset, which I wasn’t even conscious of until now.  Criticism, implicit or not, is a sure way to get someone defensive and throw the conversation into a tit-for-tat match. ]

Melinda: you irritate me, lol

[Notice the “lol’ which is meant to cushion the blow of me receiving the message that I am “irritating” her.  In text messages, there isn’t body language and we can’t pick up on “vibes” to interpret the intention of the individual.  I interpreted it in a way that annoyed me.  I got annoyed because I am sharing something of value to me that irritates her.  How dare her.  But I let this go and gave her the benefit of the doubt.]

Musings: Promise me that you will read this post because it explains how often our foreign policy is not for human rights, disrespects sound international law, and how often America does anything they want, which is called American exceptionalism.  The post shows how we cloak our military presence in the name of freedom and democracy, which are ideals meant to rally our tribal instincts.  But as history shows, it is always the most dominant country that does most of the killing and damage.

[I was trying to get her to rethink her position on a preemptive foreign policy or “tough on evil” or however a conservative chooses to market their terror on Others.  I don’t think I was being aggressive or obnoxious, but it resulted in the following response.  She probably interpreted it as intense and intrusive because I kept peddling “my truth”. ]

Melinda: blah, blah, blah

[At this point, I took this personally because she is clearly being obtuse and dismissive of my earnest attempt to share something that was important to me.  I then proceeded to share my feelings and ask why she is being dismissive.  My mistake was that I described her responses akin to a teenager who receives information that is over their head.]

The Right Way to Converse

Curtail the Use of Criticism

We all want to be heard, seen, and understood.  We want to be seen as contributing to a conversation with worthwhile points.  This is a facet of what it is to be human.  When someone criticizes or dismisses us or our points, then we will either feel hurt feelings or anger.  Research shows that most interpersonal interactions go awry when we criticize, get defensive, use contempt (mockery or name-calling), or stonewall.  Of course, if we are in a relaxed mood and not too serious, then there is a reduced chance of us getting upset.  But that is just it.  We cannot predict what mood someone is in, so the rule of thumb should be to be polite and mindful of our speech and tone.  If we must point out a flaw, then the best way to approach it is to subdue the criticism with the preface of “I feel”.

It Is Not “Tiptoeing Around”

A common retort is why should I tiptoe around people since I am proud of my values.  If you are offended, then too bad.  This reflects a misunderstanding of our evolutionary past as tribal beings.  For most of our existence as homo sapiens, we existed in tight-niched tribes of no more than 100.  We all shared similar beliefs, values, and interests.  Sharing values makes us bind together, become self-righteous and blind to other values, and have hate for the Other.  So it is not religion or politics in themselves that cause conflict; otherwise, how could we explain similar behavior of different nations or people with different preferences in sports teams.

Think about what happens when we proudly display a “Fuck Biden” or “Trump” banner or bumper sticker.  The former banner right away will instill some aversive emotions in some, while the latter has a history of aggressive rallies which will do much the same. Saying that we should not tiptoe around is the same thing as Donald Trump saying that he doesn’t have time for political correctness, which is absurd.  If we value a relationship, then why would we not want to use respectful speech and tone?  Knowing how tribal and threatened we can get by the values of others, we are playing with fire when we are obnoxious about our values.

You Are Not “Too Sensitive”

If anyone tells you that you are too sensitive, this may or may not give you information.  It usually is an attempt to excuse someone’s brazen behavior and deflect the problem.  In fact, therapists call this “gaslighting” which is when we feel like we did something wrong even though we didn’t.  It is a way to control and manipulate you.  On the other hand, twenty percent of the population can be characterized as being a “highly sensitive person“.  But what good is it telling someone when they get upset that they are too sensitive?  They most likely already know this.  You cannot change someone’s temperament.  The most reasonable thing to do would be to be mindful of what we say and to be tactful.  If we value the relationship, it does not seem like too much to ask.

Can We All Just Get Along?

Probably not because of our tribal nature.  I suspect that the more we care and the more our identity is tied to our values, then the more likely we will get emotional and want to antagonize the Other side with our beliefs.  Experts within moral psychology believe that we need to become less self-righteous and more open-minded.  They really don’t know how to accomplish this though and realize that the more political we become then the more divided we will be.  On the other hand, if we want to selfishly fight for our values and interests, we would prefer the take-no-prisoners route and shamelessly wave a banner at our opposition.  But when it comes to personal relationships that we value, why even go there in the first place unless we have our delicate gloves on.


i) I would look at DeSantis’s stance on issues.  Well, we do not even have to do that since he is a conservative which means we know his values and thus his stance on issues.  The only positive thing I can say about DeSantis is that he admits that climate change is real although he of course refuses to be clumped into the “radical” environmentalists group.  Otherwise, this guy is a typical authoritarian.  If we do know what authoritarianism means then see here as well as references.  As far as his stance on issues, such as family values, I have written about this already in general.  Although I do not know the ramifications of teaching critical race theory, I would imagine that having an awareness of racism would contribute to seeing reductions in racism.  In fact, there is evidence that biases almost across the board have been on the decline since 2007 according to large-scale studies, which may be attributed to political correctness and critical race theory.

As DeSantis is arguing, are political correctness and teaching critical race theory authoritarian and indoctrination?  All of education and religion are indoctrinating.  But if these beliefs are worthwhile, then they are worth teaching.  Yes, the woke culture can be authoritarian because they shame people that don’t participate in it and create fear as a result.  But if it is consensual, then conformity over a belief is not authoritarian.  I am against the aggressiveness of the woke culture but for political correctness.  I just do not have a solution for those not on board.  I can go on and on about Desantis, for example, his science denial, etc.


The Righteous Mind.  By Jonathan Haidt

[Read more…]

Costly Status Striving

Although we can get grains of truth from our ideologies’ aphorisms, which say things like “have you ever seen an ungrateful happy person”, the real insight comes from the details.  That is what I present today.  Ideologies are not supposed to teach us scientific truths and instead appeal to our moral sentiments.  The pithy expression is a criticism of liberalism in that all we do is complain. This is appealing to some because it validates their belief that liberals are whiney weaklings.  They then share this “moment” with others. That is how ideologies work. They make us form bonds with those on our side, so we remain self-righteous, divisive, and insular.

Does not change start with a complaint though?  For those who are not satisfied with the status quo, it must start this way.   In any event, I am not complaining on this post.  I am saying one thing: exaggerated status inequality, regardless if we are indifferent towards it, has consequences.  I do not mean to pick on Jordan Peterson, OK I sort of do, because he helps a lot of people. He does so by helping them become “disagreeable”.  Disagreeableness is a personality trait where we act aggressively and manipulatively in order to serve our interests.  Thus, Peterson will be contributing to more formidable competitors within the status hierarchy.  I do not know if Peterson should be judged for this because this is what successful people do, they aggressively pursue their interests.

If it does not occur to anyone, this constitutes scientific evidence for any feelings of indignation that some may have over inequality. I say “some” because most studies show that we can accept a lot of status inequality.  And, no, indignation is not envy nor is it resentment.  Conservatives have already told us what they think of our feelings—”*$*! your feelings”.  We cannot argue just on feelings.  I could not address many of the commentator’s points because either they made no sense or were unworthy of my time.


Most do not care about inequality.  We care about fairness.  Studies show that we can tolerate the disparity between the poor and the rich without throwing a fuss, with the rich making up to four and even fifty times that of the poor [8].  Most believe meritocracy is fair, which is what our economy aspires to be.  Meritocracy is when we award people based on their abilities.  We look at what they have done or can do, which is a function of their ability plus the effort put forth.  This may not feel fair to those with an intellectual or physical disability.  But life is not fair.  Even to the average person, meritocracy is not entirely fair because we are not all born with the same levels of privilege.  We are not all born with the same abilities, such as intelligence, motivation, etc, either.  In principle, this does not seem to bother most.  Meritocracy is promoted as providing an incentive to achieve status while being an efficient way to allocate talent.  As Peterson has said, we want the best people performing brain surgery on us—a hierarchy of competencies.

Meritocracy is a legitimizing myth since it justifies the status hierarchy that forms as a result of our differences in ability.  It morally justifies our successes and says those on top are competent and smart, while those on the bottom are lazy and stupid.  Despite some quibbles, I do not have a problem with this.  The exception is that meritocracy can make our society look like an experiment in social Darwinism [9].  But we start this post under the assumption that people more or less get what they deserve; we just have to exclude when we have privilege, superior intelligence, gifted drive, cronyism, selfish and conscientious personalities, and luck, all of which are out of our control.  Hey, grit and effort count as much as two times that of ability.  To a conservative, who wants us to shut up and take our medicine (life) like men, my assumption that we more or less get what we deserve should be welcome.

Status-Striving: A Zero-Summed Game

Many of us are failing in our efforts at bringing about more status—whether it be influence, respect, care, love, sex, material goods, etc.  How do we know this?  Take a look at Jordan Peterson’s popularity.  He is here to help, primarily males, achieve more status and prestige.  Status is anything that brings positive attention.  Positive attention is admiration, praise, and deference.  This attention we get pays off because it brings influence and access to resources [4].  In other words, since people believe we have something special to offer, we can get them to do what we want.  They are more likely to reciprocate and help us when in need.  After all, people defer to us and we hold their attention.  We represent what they secretly want to have and be like.

Status is all relative.  Think about how high our confidence and comfortability levels are around people who rank low in intelligence, physical attractiveness, and ability.  All else equal, these people are more likely to defer to us.  Status and prestige, however, are scarce resources since we all want high-salaried positions, attractive and affable friends, and so forth.  This means that our self-interest is in competition with other people’s self-interest, which results in a conflict of interests.  So striving for status is often a zero-summed game.  There will be losers and winners.  It is not like participating in a market transaction, where free marketers assure us that it is a non-zero summed game since both participants stand to gain an increase in utility.  So we should not conflate the two. But this is exactly what the free market enthusiasts do; they say hey the market is a win-win and it is about cooperation, not competition.

When there is a limited supply of desirable resources such as goods, mates, positions, and prestige, those who are able to outmaneuver, overpower, or entice resources from others, will do better than those who cannot do these things.

We attract, entice, and get these things (status) by having status (intelligence, talents, attractivenss, abilities, etc.).

Indeed, social hierarchies are reflections of outcomes of conflicts: Those at the top have usually escalated and won, whereas those at the bottom have usually been outmaneuvered, overwhelmed, lost, and have had to de-escalate. [3]

So how do we approach this game of status striving?  One solution is to be better than others by being formidable and heeding Peterson’s advice.  We can intimidate and impress people with our confidence and prowess while increasing our chances of success by being selfish.  In the process, we will create a winner at the expense of others becoming losers.  This is how social hierarchies form, which creates status inequality.  Whenever we get people together, this is what happens although Peterson is biasing it to work in someone’s favor.  What about those who cannot pursue their own self-interest?  There is a solution for them too. They must accept their status and be grateful.  But even if we accept our positions in life and become content, where we stand in relation to someone else has effects on our survival.  There are subtle forces at play beyond our awareness.

Relative Status: the Insidious (or Beneficial) Force

Commentator: As Science, Engineering, and Technology becomes more advanced, inequality increases, irrespective of politics. Inequality increases. So what? The living standard of the poor increases along with that of the rich. JB Peterson aims to make the young competent enough to meet the challenges of tomorrow.

Peterson believes that a successful person is one who is “tough, smart, conscientious, and disagreeable.”  Disagreeableness is a personality trait that involves selfishness, manipulation, and aggression [1].  Although possessing these traits and striving to be formidable help some, the net effect is to contribute to an increase in inequality.  But there is status mobility, right?  Social inequality is not a bad thing because it entices people to strive for more status.  America is the land of opportunity, and people have more chances to become wealthy here than anywhere else.  These points are not necessarily wrong, but they miss an additional effect. Where we stand in the hierarchy relative to where another person stands, affects our health and happiness.  The better positioned we are, all else equal, then the happier and healthier we are relative to others with less status, anywhere along the continuum.

Average happiness levels do not rise with increasing average of the society, because whether societies are rich or richer, there will always be those who are better off, and those who are worse off; there will always be relative inequalities.  [This should answer the “Inequality increases. So what?”  It makes no difference if we increase GDP or raise people out of poverty.  None whatsoever!  Becuase it is where we stand relative to others that matters.  This is an additional effect that must be taken into account.  It is shown across most species in the animal kingdom too.  Having gratitude for where we are at, taking good health advice, and trying to be satisfied is not enough to buffer the effects of relative status differences.  The research bears this out.]



Researchers followed 8,500 men and women over a twenty-year period and reported the results above.  If we made less than $15k (~$30k today), then we were nearly four times at risk of death compared to someone who made $70k (~ $140k today).  This distribution has been replicated for many other time periods and has gotten worse [5].  All factors that may influence the result were adjusted.  We may say to ourselves, oh, well, that is easy to explain.  Those who have a higher income have a better education. Better education and more income mean making healthier decisions, taking fewer risks, and having access to better health care.  It turns out that this effect is not big enough to explain these disparities.  That is, once we are out of poverty and do not have to worry about malaria, dysentery, and starvation, education and income have little effect in themselves.  It is what status brings us, which is an increase in influence, control over our lives, social engagement and benefits.  Status matters a whole lot.  

Humans have a pervasive need to be valued and to court good feelings about the self in the mind of “the other,” in order to be chosen for a role (as an employee, a friend, a lover, etc.). We have evolved special processing systems underpinning self-processing competencies that tract our social standing and how we think others think about us. [3]

Studies show that we care a great deal about what others think of us.  We also care about the amount of status our friends, rivals, and spouses have relative to us [7].  In fact, our happiness depends, amongst other factors, on how we compare ourselves to others.  Popular culture says that it should not matter what other people think and that we should only compete with ourselves.  This is good advice since unfavorable comparisons can cause a negative mood.  In fact, if we are constantly comparing ourselves and fail to measure up, then we can experience low self-esteem and inferiority.  This is a recipe for an unhappy life.  Still, it is inevitable that we will size one another up since the mind automatically assesses others as either a threat or non-threat to our interests.

Relative Status: on Health and Happiness

Most mental illnesses, such as depression and social anxiety, have their origins in striving for status [3].  In the United States, the mental illness rate is over twenty-percent.  Depression is a perfect example of status striving.  Depression is a “failed struggle” or a “failure to yield” [3].  This means that when we are experiencing interpersonal conflict (peer abuse, competing for positions, spousal criticism, etc.) or our goals become blocked (unrequited love, stagnant at work, can’t live up to expectations, etc.), and there’s no hope to reach these goals or to “win”, then we will become depressed if we don’t accept or accommodate ourselves to the situation.  In other words, the more we escalate or try harder to get what we want, whatever that may be, and we can’t get what we want, the more the body naturally deescalates itself and we become depressed.  Depression tells the body to seek more fruitful paths in life.

Commentator:…that relatively large disparities in status differences result in a reduction in health and happiness.” Really? Where is the evidence? Just J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment) degrades health and happiness. [Negative emotions can reduce subjective well-being (aka happiness), but the point is missed.  As much as we can wish or practice CBT to reduce these feelings, these feelings are inevitable.  In fact, they are a direct result of us not being equal, which is why we have status inequality.]

The negative emotions listed above are the result of us living in a social world and are not so much dependent on our ideology. Conservatives, however, are found to score higher, not by much, on measures of subjective well-being.  Subjective well-being is a common measure of happiness and is a function of life satisfaction, positive affect, and lack of negative affect.  The quotes below list some of the ways in which they accomplish this.  I suppose by liberals focusing on what they do not have or how the world should be, they can develop general envy towards others and resent the system and those who participate in it.  But I have not seen any research on this.  There is reason to believe that liberals may feel more discontent and unsatisfied because they view the world more accurately.  To change something, there must be some dissatisfaction with the way things currently are.  

Some say that conservatives have a greater sense of agency (they believe that they are in control of their life) and optimism (believe that meritocracy is fair, that is, with a little effort anyone can be successful) or they have certain social and cultural values that promote happiness (they derive meaning from religion and work). Others have been less flattering, saying that conservatism helps people feel less troubled about social inequalities by helping them to rationalize them away. [9]

High political conservatism is associated with preferences for stability, conformity, tradition, and order and structure. High political liberalism, in contrast, is associated with preferences for creativity, curiosity, novelty-seeking, and new experiences. Highly politically conservative people eschew ambiguity and disorganization and prefer closure and limited shades of gray (“hard categorizers”). Highly politically liberal people tolerate ambiguity and disorganization and favor flexibility and taking on cognitive conflicts. []

The relative risk of death does not segment itself into different ideologies.  We have no way of knowing how conservative beliefs and practices would help reduce the relative risk of death.  Since happiness is highly correlated with health, then it is conceivable that it would.  The key to understanding relative status is that its effect is often incremental and subtle.  If we have something “to offer”, which is what status is, we are more likely to be chosen for roles to participate in.  People invest in us because they believe in us. They are more likely to help us when in need.  We have increased access to resources, which come in many different forms (psychological, social, etc.), to help us solve problems.  We can take control of the situation instead of the situation controlling us [5].

All of these things, however subtle, accumulate to decrease the likelihood of stress, which is highly correlated with mental and physical health.  It is simply not true that high-status jobs are more stressful, such as being a physician.  This is because of the respect that is accorded to them.  The more that people defer to us, then the less stressful life is.  People are less likely to directly express their disapproval, anger, or criticism towards us.  The benefits of being valued pay off in psychological dividends.  People that are lower in status relative to their peers are more likely to experience anxiety and depression [3].  They are often in a state of “embraced readiness” because they must defend themselves from being harassed.  Think of extreme cases of high-status others, such as CEOs from successful companies.  They were not always calm, cool, and collected.  The brain increases neurotransmitters that signal to others that they are of high status.  They do not need to defend themselves because others will automatically submit.

Resentments: Much-Needed Distinctions

Commentator: Yes, I believe in many but not all cases envy and indignation can be at the root of a liberal worldview. [Not accurate.]  Leftism encourages fear, not respect.[Feeling threatned (fear) by Others, say minorities or those who threaten the establishment are more typical of conservative authoritarians.] Leftism encourages J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment).  [Sometimes they can feel indignation at the wealthy, especially those who don’t contribute to the welfare of others.]

Certainly, some liberals feel envy and indignation over the wealthy.  This could be reflected in the fact that they are for the redistribution of wealth. But envy and indignation are different things.  Envy is when we want someone else’s status and indignation is when we feel outraged over a grave injustice.  When it comes to the wealthy, I suspect that liberals are more likely to feel indignation than envy.  They feel that it is a scandal of capitalism that billionaires exist while 40 million people are at the poverty level.  A typical conservative, on the other hand, would see this as fair.  Because they believe fairness is proportional to the effort put forth in the market.  Of course, it is not quite that simple.  Regardless, most hate that we see from liberals is from their tribal instincts of Us vs. Them not from envy.  We feel hate when others are a threat to us, like someone we are competing with or who has different views than us, and we feel contempt for those who we perceive are beneath us.  Note that I choose more technical definitions than Webster’s but others are possible.  In short, envy is not “at the root of a liberal worldview”, not by a long shot.

What guides most liberals’ reasoning and stance on issues is compassion and empathy, sometimes to a fault.  Their worldview, not as a political philosophy but as a mode of thought and reasoning that prioritizes their values, has been more or less worked out by Lakoff and Haidt.  Their personalities tend to be more sensitive to feelings of compassion than conservatives, and they are more open to new experiences.  Again, this is just a model and variations exist.  Think about how they want to protect people from themselves, the market, corporations, guns, and so forth.  We can argue whether liberals’ approach to configuring society is ideal or not, but just like conservatives, they are coming from a particular point of view.  If we get their view, then we can understand them.  The antidote to our tendencies to engage in tribal warfare is to look at what we have in common with Others, not our differences. This may be difficult for authoritarians since their personality traits don’t easily lend a hand to empathy or openness to new ideas.

More distinctions must be made here too.  Those damn details.  Resentment is feeling anger and disgust towards another for perceived unfair treatment.  Whether or not the resentment is rational is something entirely different.  But resentment can also mean that we can resent when unfair things happen to us or when someone else gets something that we they do not deserve.  In a sense, envy is similar to resentment since we can have envy towards someone getting a new position (status), which could lead us to resent them.  And yet another nuance, indignation usually involves moral scenarios against members of society, whereas resentment is at the level of the individual.  When resentments include the thoughts “I deserve it”, and “they don’t deserve it”, then this may be fueled by a sense of entitlement.  Now that we have defined our terms, we need to ask if the liberal worldview fosters a sense of entitlement and resentment.  The answer is yes to the former.  But the word entitlement means something different to a liberal than a conservative (ii).  It is how we frame these very concepts that cause disagreement among the parties.

Psychological entitlement refers to an inflated and pervasive sense of deservingness, self-importance, and exaggerated expectations to receive special goods and treatment without reciprocating. [4]

For the mentally rigid, this may be a difficult concept to grasp, namely relativism.  Not relativism in the postmodernist sense where we cannot give priority to any truth at all, but in the sense that everything is relative to something to give it meaning.  In the definition of entitlement above, what do exaggerated expectations mean?  What is considered exaggerated is relative to the beliefs held within a worldview.  Liberals, for example, believe that health care is a basic need that everyone should have.  Conservatives say not a chance.  Conservatives’ belief in self-reliance drives all of the entitlement logic to be cases of unreasonable expectations.  Since we are supposed to be self-reliant and self-disciplined, then entitlements are always an unreasonable form of coddling.  But liberals believe that providing health care is empowering and nurturing the individual to help them realize their full potential.  Thus, what are exaggerated expectations in one worldview turn out to be reasonable in another.  We cannot possibly say that liberals are excessively entitled within the liberal sense of the word.  Putting liberal concepts within a conservative frame becomes incoherent.

Not that Simple: Shutup and Be Grateful

Commentator: Who is more likely to be a criminal: a resentful person? an unresentful person? Have you ever met a happy ungrateful person? [Notice the use of categorical reasoning.]. Gratefulness is the essential ingredient to happiness. [Yes, on the right track, but it is not the only factor.]

Psychology does show that gratitude is related to happiness.  Conservative pundits, with the exception of Peterson, are not psychologists.  They make it sound like gratitude is a simple choice.  It takes effort to be aware that we are feeling resentful and to put gratitude into practice. It takes even more effort to override feelings of resentment that we may harbor for society in general, which can exist in some.  Take an extreme example of mass shooters, who mostly start with no mental illness, and have been physically abused by parents and chronically rejected by their peers.  [I say start with no mental illness because, after abuse, they develop depression, trauma, and other mood disorders.]. They develop resentment towards society in general and then anger turns outward towards the Other.  The advice of being grateful is something that will have little to no effect on “categorically” resentful people.  There are of course a lot of people who have good genetics and upbringings that would prevent them from becoming mass shooters if abused and rejected.  And, no, I am not saying that mass shooters should not be accountable for their actions.

To say that a resentful person is more likely to be a “criminal” is an empirical question.  How do we know which came first, the resentment or the criminal act?  To even start, we would have to ask how frequent, to what magnitude, and how people experience resentments in order to qualify as a categorically “resentful person”.   If we exclude the pathological cases of those who experience resentment towards life, others, and the world in general, then there is no reason to believe that liberals experience it more than others.  Most resentments that we experience are not in general but occur in our daily interactions with other individuals.  Think about when someone snubs us, criticizes us, or does not take us seriously.  We either feel hurt feelings or anger and then later can develop resentment towards that person.  If they are rivals at work, we may even feel hate towards them.  The solution from a conservative is to toughen up or have gratitude that you are alive.  This advice is silly when we are feeling these emotions.  If we are pervasively not taken seriously, then maybe there is some truth to it.  We can instead focus on self-improvement or adjust our level of self-importance.  When we decrease our expectations of how we are supposed to be treated, then we are less likely to develop resentment.  On the other hand, perhaps the individuals who said this wasn’t high in status, and we could care less about their opinion and choose to dismiss it.  Life is complex and using pithy expressions as a strategy for navigating our social worlds is a start but not enough.  Conservatives’ advice always has a grain of truth to it, which is why it is contagious.

Have we ever met a happy ungrateful person?  There is truth in this oversimplification, but the “how” is missing, which makes it easy for self-righteous conservatives to stand in judgment instead of trying to understand why someone is resentful.  Some people’s personalities and environments make it challenging to accomplish this.  We would need to be in a milieu in which we could become content by finding satisfaction in the small things and lowering our expectations for status attainment.  There are a lot of people, however, who want to obtain more status in life, whether it is more respect, influence, love, sex, care, support, friends, high-status positions, etc., but they are failing at bringing this about.  Feeling trapped and powerless is a real phenomenon.  Lowering our expectations for status and accepting our position in life is one strategy, but giving advice to someone who wants more out of life to “be grateful” invalidates their struggle.  One strategy is to heed Peterson’s advice.  But there are no guarantees for advancing or becoming content.  Those who are truly low in status, that is, do not have much to offer in the domains of intelligence, attractiveness, ability, or personality, then they will struggle if they do not accept their status.  They will have a pervasive “chip on their shoulders” if they do not lower their expectations and self-importance.  In fact, experts claim that low-status individuals get rejected often and are at risk of just giving up on life.  The advice is for them to become more affable and giving.  In other words, if we can’t beat them then join them by subordinating ourselves.  This leaves the undesirable worrying about sacrificing too much and becoming exploited.  Since they are not good enough to be accepted or compete in this world, yet they do not want to be taken advantage of, then they must either subordinate themselves or live as the proverbial resentful person.  These people, the “undesirables”, have it rough, to say the least.  Those who are lower in social status are often on the periphery and become invisible.

The Science of Status Hierarchy 

Commentator:…the problem we have with status hierarchy…” A pointless statement. No matter how you re-arrange society, economy, and government, new hierarchies will arise with associated strata and status levels. Only in Dream-Land do strata-less, status-less societies exist. [Again, the difficulty with nuance.  It is a matter of degree.]

Anthropologists:  And as a large body of anthropological research shows, long before we organised ourselves into hierarchies of wealth, social status and power, these groups rigorously enforced norms that prevented any individual or group from acquiring more status, authority or resources than others. [6]

Whenever people get together status hierarchies form. The criteria that determine rank depend on the goals of the group, which is usually some combination of competence, intelligence, assertiveness, resources, and physical attractiveness.  Status hierarchies have the benefit of being an efficient means to economic progress because they put the more capable in charge.  They weren’t always this exaggerated though.  It was not until we started to grow our own food and settle down did we start to acquire vast amounts of material status.  But our psychology has not changed from 10,000 years ago.  Instead, our social norms have changed; we advocate competition, self-reliance, and materialism within our own tribe (U.S.).  It is not that we did not compete with one another, but solidarity must have been more pervasive for survival.  And competition was primarily with other tribes.  There had to have been a counterbalance to our tendency for self-interest.  In fact, the definition of morality is about suppressing self-interest in order to allow for cooperation.  From an evolutionary psychologist’s perspective, having envy motivates us to want to achieve more status ourselves.  On the other hand, having an awareness that we can make others feel uncomfortable with our status keeps us humble. In other words, envy may have evolved as a way to equalize status and to help us bind together.  Think about the feelings we have when someone close to us increases their status.  It is not always envy that we feel but that we don’t want to be left behind.

Commentator: According to the dictionary, FORMIDABLE = inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable. Fear (aka intimidation) versus Respect. Fear is not Respect. Fear is a reaction; respect is a decision. Going back to the subject of play, no one gets invited to play through intimidation. Peterson definitely advocates people to strive to be capable, competent, and (IMPORTANTLY) playful. Formidable and playful inspires much more respect than fear. Fear and Respect are functions of the beholder more than of said formidable person. [Not quite the whole story. See below.]

According to the dictionary, RESPECT = a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Respect opens one to improve oneself, to educate oneself. Fear closes one to improvement and education. Leftism encourages fear, not respect. Leftism encourages J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment). The Left fears the competent. The Left resents the competent.  [Not quite acccurate.]

For the above, some of the concepts are correct and others are conflated.  Respect is an easy concept to understand if explained by an evolutionary psychologist.  Its end result is deference.  The ones that are “looked up to” are who we defer to but are also the ones that can do the threatening.  They threaten not with violence or aggression, as that is no longer acceptable, but with disapproval, anger, or rejection.  On average, we care more about the opinion of those above us than those on the same level or below us.  Because those are the people that can affect our position (status) in the world.  In the mind, respect can manifest as feelings of admiration over someone’s attributes and accomplishments.  But respect need not be only admiration.  If we define respect as being dependent on its outcome, which is deference, then invoking fear in others also results in a form of respect.  We just do not accept this form of respect anymore because we have evolved from a dominance-based to an affiliative-based system.

Respect is more likely to be an unconscious response than a choice; it is deeply rooted in our evolutionary past.  We unconsciously appraise situations quite quickly often without making any choices at all.  If we size someone up as stronger, more attractive, or more intelligent, we may automatically defer to them.  It is a fact of life that many get deferred to automatically without putting much effort into it—for example, those who are tall and physically attractive are treated better, all else equal.  We do not have fear anymore of someone retaliating with violence but rather have fear of being judged as inadequate or undesirable.  But feeling fear is still possible when we interact with others that we appraise as more capable, attractive, and accomplished.  I would call it insecurity, which if we study the mind, we will see that insecurity is rooted in the same parts of the brain as fear induced by the threat of violence.  In fact, there is a ton of research on how many will get social anxiety around those who pose a threat to their status.  Who we defer to and admire versus who we challenge or even hate would likely be based on who is our ally versus who is our competitor.

The point of contention was whether or not Peterson is accelerating the rate of people becoming dominant, not through force, but by virtue of what Peterson believes creates success.  For Peterson, the traits that create success are “disagreeableness, intelligence, and toughness”.  As a side, the commentator is taking my hypothesis more seriously than needed.  I have no way of testing this empirically.   In any event, let me start out by describing the status system that we currently work in.  We largely compete now to bestow positive value upon one another in order to be valued or chosen as relational partners or workers.  We advertise our worth through our abilities, smarts, character, and appearances.  Possessing these things equates to status and prestige.  We attract attention through our status with an, often unconscious, goal to stimulate positive feelings in the minds of others.  Although in the process we can create insecurity in some, the objective is to inspire others to improve their own status in a way that benefits others.

This system’s outcome is cooperative since we are competing to engage in mutually beneficial activities, say to be valued as a friend or to provide services to others as a valued worker.  In this type of system, we do not want to be seen as undesirable which means unattractive to others in some kind of way.  We care what others think, and we want to be accepted and valued.  This system is known as the hedonic system by evolutionary psychologists, which is “affiliative based on mutual benefit through positive displays”[1].  By contrast, the older system, which is the agonic or dominance-based system, still exists and in some ways has been coopted for the newer system.  The agonic system uses the threat of force and intimidation with the goal to get what we want by inhibiting others.  This system causes us to rank one another by virtue of who is better at whatever the relevant domain may be.  We can thank this system for us wanting to feel formidable, a force to be reckoned with, to be Machiavelian, and to be submitted to.  For those who liked “Better Call Saul” and “Breaking Bad”, Saul Goodman wanted to be accepted and well-liked (hedonic), while Walter White wanted to be respected and submitted to (agonic).  Both systems of course coexist since evolution is a conservatory force.

Peterson’s Experiment: Escalating Conflict of Interests

Peterson cites the evidence for success, which is to possess the traits of “disagreeableness, conscientiousness, intelligence, and toughness,” more than enough to know that he has extensively researched this.  Disagreeableness is a trait that is correlated with a lot of other traits, even from the dark triad which involves manipulatory and uncooperative behavior.  We possess this trait when we score low for agreeableness, which comes from the Big Five personality model.  Agreeableness is about being compassionate, cooperative, and putting the interests of others first.  As far as disagreeableness and success, the research has mixed results. Because some studies show that the advantages of selfish and brazen behavior for moving up the ladder are offset by the inability to form strong interpersonal relationships.  In my own experience with the corporate world, I would have to agree with Peterson. Regardless, Peterson is encouraging us to become formidable and self-interested, which means exuding the traits of toughness and disagreeableness   This is why I have said that if we want to be successful, then we should be willing to take Peterson’s advice.

Commentator: The Left fears the competent.  The Left resents the competent. [Having insecurity over someone being more competent and formidable than you is a function of the human condition not of an ideology.  We all can feel insecure over those higher in status than us, that is, those who are more attractive, capable, stronger, and talented than us.  They pose a threat to our own status because they attract more attention.  Status is defined as the increased influence we have over others by virtue of the amount of deference and positive attention we receive.]

Peterson is activating the agonic system since he believes being disagreeable and formidable are needed for success.  To be disagreeable is to act selfish, manipulative, and aggressively [1].  Since there is flexibility in these systems, Peterson, however, is also activating the hedonic or affiliative-based system when it is time to play.  But the play does nothing to negate the dominant-to-subordinate configuration that we create by becoming formidable.  It just means that when the dominant wants to play, it is time to play.  Peterson is encouraging the worst kind of competition by evoking the agonic system, which is characterized as being about “inhibiting others” through intimidation.  We do not become formidable in order to inspire others; we do so in order to become a “force to be reckoned with”.  We want people not to only defer to us but to submit to us when they are inferior to us.  In Peterson’s world, there is either the formidable or the opposite of the formidable, which is the weak.  Although he does not advocate the threat of aggression or force, he advocates the threat of creating insecurity in others by displaying superior competencies.


The purpose of this exhaustive post was not to defend the idea that Peterson contributes to status inequality.  Its purpose was to show how status inequality contributes to health and happiness.  Perhaps Peterson should not be reprimanded for helping others do what is partly instinctive, which is to strive for status.  The bigger point remains that anyone who selfishly strives for status will be contributing to status inequality.  Whether or not they become winners or losers, depends upon a host of factors—the primary of which is where they fall on the status continuum relative to others.  We all know that life, in terms of status striving and being valued by others, is based on how well we are positioned relative to others.  So the advice is to go where we can shine relative to others. This increases our chances of being valued and advancing our interests.  But what about the losers just below us.  Well, become more formidable and advance, or be grateful and accept.  In the former case, this creates more losers, and in the latter case we convince ourselves that we are happy, yet the statistics say that stats still matter.  Maybe we should change our approach instead.

But the following narrative is so ingrained in us that it will not be easy.  Status inequality creates incentives for us to want to achieve and be on top.  But no one is suggesting getting rid of status inequality since it is an inevitable result of what it means to be human. Solutions are for another post though.

Without competition, there is no source of reward for self-discipline, no motivation to become the right kind of person.  It is through competition that we discover who is moral, that is, who has been properly self-disciplined and therefore deserves success, and who is fit enough to survive and even thrive in a difficult world.  [4.5]


[0.5] Christie Aschwanden.  Maybe Conservatives Just Think They Are Happier.    FiveThirtyEight

[1] Cameron, Anderson.  People with disagreeable personalities … PNAS.

[2] Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape. Princeton University Press.

[3] Gilbert, Paul.  Subordination and Defeat: An Evolutionary Approach To Mood Disorders and Their Therapy.

[4] Jens Lange.  A Status-Seeking Account of Psychological Entitlement.  Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin.

[4.5] Lakoff, George.  Moral Politics.

[5] Marmot, Michael. The Status Syndrome. Henry Holt and Co

[5.5] Ross Pomeroy. Why Are Conservatives Happier Than Liberals?  RealClearScience.

[6] Rogers, Deborah.  Inequality: Why Egalitarian Societies Dies Out.

[7] Sandel.  Michael.  The Tyranny of Merit.

[8] Starmans, Christina.  Why People Prefer Unequal Societies.  Nature Human Behavior.

The End to Peterson (Sneak Preview)

Sneak Preview: This is a sneak preview of my formal rebuttal to a commentator who dares to challenge me.  Do not take this too seriously as this is entertainment.  I should have the rest of my rebuttal up sometime this month.  I found a ton of more research that I must include.  Hey, it is a long and exhaustive response, and it takes time to review the original research.  Although I can’t offer direct empirical support for my hypothesis (indirect, yes), I do make a good a priori case.  I will not be responding to any rebuttals though.  I know this is unfair, but I have the power to do so and no more time to give.

I really got under this commentator’s skin because they are shouting like an aggressive Trump heckler, “CONSERVATIVE PHOBIA!” This is what happens when people defend their beliefs; it becomes tribal warfare.  Being an ideologue makes us self-righteous and have hate for the Other.  The difference between them and me is that I have been cordial and have acknowledged their points.  This person, on the other hand, wants to shove their argument down my throat until I choke with blood and concede that I am wrong. They show what happens when we combine conservatism, the authoritarian flavor, with folk psychology found on the internet. 


Angry Trump fans converge on the press pen at a rally in Florida (source: RAWSTORY)

You cannot know what you can withstand.  You cannot have any proper sense of self-respect unless you know what you can tolerate.  And if you avoid everything you have reason to avoid, but should nonetheless not avoid, you will not know who you are, and you cannot live a proper life.

[The Jordan Peterson quote has to be what people mean about him being difficult to understand.  It is basically saying that a struggle in life is worthwhile although I would only say that perserverence makes us understand one aspect of ourselves.  This comes from an assumption of conservatism that life is a struggle for survival, which is not accurate.]

This will be the end of the reply to the never-ending comment, not to Peterson.  Peterson will go on as other conservative pundits do.  Recently, I got the privilege to listen to Dennis Prager and Peterson discuss the topics of God and the attack on Western culture.  I am not being sarcastic; most of the stuff Peterson does is thought-provoking.  Since he is concerned about people challenging his thoughts, he formulates every response as a long strained argument.  This makes following him challenging but sometimes worth it.  Dennis Prager, however, rubs me the wrong way.  I obviously have an ingroup bias.  I think this is where the commentator has a point.  For some, those who are “formidable” and confident are threatening.  Although Prager comes across as bold, it is also possible that his look which is the prototypical authoritarian from the 1950s (Christian, strict father, short hair, etc.) irritates me.  Personally, I enjoy people that are a little more easygoing.  It is just a matter of preference.  It does not mean that I do not strive for excellence and competence.  The difference is in a matter of degree and what we ground our worldviews in.

Mental Rigidity 

I noticed that sometimes this person has difficulty dealing with nuance, especially with the idea of how much.  There is a difference between some versus all and sometimes versus always.  They don’t agree or concede to anything or try to “get” where I am coming from. Although this individual would have to take a test to be sure, it is hard not to infer that they would score high for the RWA trait or Right Winged Authoritarianism.  This trait affects how they process information (see below) [1].  Since this person follows conservative dictums to a tee, I am sure they will retort with the left being authoritarian.  There is some evidence that they would be correct.  The best estimates in the US put the right to be at least three times that of the left [2].  In any event, I am not one of them.

Processing of Information [1]:

  • difficulty in judging evidence
  • high need to compartmentalize info
    • ironically, they hold more contradictory beliefs than others; so they must vigilantly categorize to reduce dissonance.
    • once information is categorized, then it becomes solidified which makes changing their minds impossible.
    • the mind is also poorly integrated so when they hear something that doesn’t fit right, they don’t know what to do with it
  • dogmatism — intolerance towards ambiguity
    • since nuance comes across as ambiguity, this explains why they must insist on absolute categorization without degrees
    • absolute categorization says that something is either in or out of the category and there is no deviation
  • lack of self-awareness

These are the four assumptions [3] that drive all logic within the conservative worldview.  Notice that one of the assumptions is absolute categorization which would explain why conservatives hate relativism but like moral absolutism.  This does not mean that radical relativism is true in the postmodernist sense.

  • folk-behaviorism – we learn through punishments and rewards which affects all of their moralities
  • humans are rational – this makes maximizing self-interest to be a moral act by way of logical necessity
  • competitive struggle for survival – life is tough which in turn justifies competition and other moralities
  • absolute categorization – attributes are either in or out of a category, which gives way to absolute morality

Authoritarian Trait

Intriguingly, the researchers found some common traits between left-wing and right-wing authoritarians, including a “preference for social uniformity, prejudice towards different others, willingness to wield group authority to coerce behavior, cognitive rigidity, aggression and punitiveness towards perceived enemies, outsized concern for hierarchy, and moral absolutism. [2]

[It seems that all in-groups if they don’t question their tendencies to oust outsiders and prefer insiders, especially ideologues, are susceptible to becoming authoritatians.]

The following description lists the trait as a series of subtraits or dimensions.  We all possess these tendencies, but it is a matter of to what degree.  And everyone can sometimes be an authoritarian, especially if someone wrongs us.  Possessing this trait obviously had some survival value if it still exists within the population.  In fact, I think it is the rudimentary trait of all in-groups before we realized that other groups matter too.  But if we possess the knowledge that it exists, then we can hold one another to a higher moral standard.  As stated, liberals can exhibit this trait too, but it seems to be much more pervasive with conservatism.  The interesting difference is that left-wing authoritarians are against the establishment and right-winger authoritarians reinforce the establishment. We have evidence for the mental rigidity in the commentator, but can we assume that they possess all of the sub-traits of RWA?

Describing the RWA trait:

  • to believe that authorities are always legitimate
  • follow and obey authorities and not criticize them
  • be intolerant of others who hold different moral, political, and racial differences
  • to adhere to societal conventions and norms and value uniformity
  • to agree to hostile and punitive treatments (e.g., coercion, oppression) for those who do not follow authorities or adhere to social norms, rules, or expectations
RWAs are likely to agree with the following statements [4]:
  • “People who are poor just need to work harder”
  • “In life, winning is the only thing that matters”
  • “A company’s main focus should be profits”
RWAs are unlikely to agree with the following statements:
  • Building relationships is more important than building profit”
  • “Happiness is more important than money”
  • “Protesters are the most patriotic citizens”

The Tough Guys: Gad Saad, Jordan Peterson, Thomas Sowell, and Dennis Prager

Commentator: Direct quotes from Lakoff (Leftist), a reference to Haidt (classical liberal). No quote or reference to JB Peterson or any other conservative like Thomas Sowell or Dennis Prager. Is the narrator lazy and/or gripped by fear of Conservatives? CONSERVATOPHOBIA!!!

The above comes across as a bully harassing the nerd on the playground.  This is an intellectual debate and not a contest over who can intimidate who with mockery and slurs. I have bent over backward trying to understand the commentator’s points, but there have been no original insights on their part, just rehashed conservatism.  The only thing I have learned is that Peterson buffers the blow of being formidable with playfulness.  The entire argument was whether or not the essence of Peterson is conservative-like. We already established that he is.  The next argument is whether or not Peterson is contributing to the tension in status hierarchies.  I think that I can demonstrate this with an affirmative.  Play or not, Peterson is aiding self-interested people in preparation for combat.

As references, I did use conservative sources from the Cato Institute and Federalist Publications.  But even this is irrelevant.  The references that I use make no difference in what their ideology is because it is an explanation of their scientific work albeit in an accessible style.   In principle, science describes phenomena, in this case, the different worldviews, and is not about what an author thinks society should be like.  It would be impossible for George Lakoff, who is a brilliant cognitive linguist, to have advanced in the scientific community without having bonified research.  His views on how society should be configured are liberal, but this has absolutely nothing to do with his analysis of the different worldviews.  In fact, he states that the conservative worldview is rational and those who are conservatives are just framing issues differently than how liberals do, which is a scientific fact, not an opinion.

As far as having a phobia, no, I would say that it just so happens that most of academia is liberal.  Furthermore, none of the “tough guys” have research published on modeling and describing the different worldviews.  If they did, I would have used them.  Their popular writings are opinions on what is wrong with the liberal worldview, which is often quite good but irrelevant to my purpose.  I used to be a conservative and looked up to these guys until I started to question why I was attracted to conservatism.  I know their reasoning and arguments in and out.  I have had life experiences that made me want to place more of an emphasis on being empathetic and gaining insight versus a focus on being formidable.  I will say it again; this boils down to a difference in preference.

Parting Words of Wisdom

Of course, each side views its own beliefs and values to be the right ones (making us self-righteous) while the other side is deemed to be in desperate need of the facts (making the other irrational).  Relative to one’s own framework, both sides are correct because both sides form coherent and rational moral frameworks.  In other words, liberals’ beliefs and values will only make sense within a liberal moral framework, and vice versa.  This explains why experts on morality believe that each speaks their own language. Taking one example of many, liberals define abortion as a cluster of cells, while conservatives define abortion as a baby.  Therefore, within the liberal frame, abortion is moral and within the conservative frame, abortion is immoral.  Preferences for framing things one way over the other are based on differences in personality or culture.  These framing differences give rise to different beliefs and values. Once we prioritize and reason with our beliefs and values, then we have a coherent worldview.  So can we ever have a correct answer?  Of course but we would have to formulate our beliefs as matters of facts that can be empirically tested, which is a challenge.  Most beliefs, morals, and values are known as distal beliefs and are difficult to prove.  The best is yet to come …


[1] Altemyer, Bob.  Right Wing Authoritarianism

[2] The Experts Somehow Overlooked the Authoritarians on the Left

[3] Lakoff, George.  Moral Politics


The Never-Ending Peterson Comment

I have been working on finishing “It is Complex; Ergo Goddidit”, which I am excited to present because I have been corresponding with biologists over email on some big questions like the origin of DNA and details absent in Neo-Darwnism.  But I realized I promised to address a comment about J.B. Peterson and related topics in a post.  So I hastily put this together. I really shouldn’t give this individual the spotlight, but I enjoy engaging with people that have different views than I do.  Although these views really come down to a difference in preferences, the concepts that the commentator brings up are hugely important.  If it were not for this point, then I would choose not to engage.  Because there are so many errors and confusion in their understanding, and I don’t have much time.  To be fair, a lot of the points I make are nuanced and require a different perspective, one that they may not be used to. Oh, and to be brutally honest, as I try to refrain from displaying my contempt, this individual confirms why I am not a conservative.


Then. Uh.. Oh… JB Peterson is found to be conservative culturally (he keeps insisting that he is a classical liberal). The horror!!! Conservatism is bad!!! Conservatism is EVIL!!!
Then. Uh.. Oh… JB Peterson is found to be religious. The horror!!! Religion is bad!!! Religion is EVIL!!! Well, if Religion bends to the diktats of the Left, then Religion is somewhat ok.


Notice the shift in the tone of the commentator.  Evil is something we label others with that can do harm to our well-being, which includes those that reject us.  The typical staunch conservative—either literally or symbolically—has not been too friendly to minorities and the LBGTQA+ communities.  If a conservative stays true to their worldview, they can never accept the underrepresented and marginalized.  So you are goddam right many liberals should think of conservatism as evil.  Your mockery either proves your ignorance or indifference to human nature.  Below is the implicit hierarchy that is in the minds of conservatives.  This legitimizes the traditional power structures along with making us believe that the rich are better than the poor. Of course, not all conservatives will have these implicit biases because this is a model!  A model is an ideal type, and real conservatives will vary or deviate in different ways from the ideal type.  But there is enough of the ideal to warrant the model. 


As far as the comment on religion being evil, no I don’t share the same views as the New Atheists do.  Religion can have some value.  I choose to not believe in god nor participate in religion because I made a commitment to realism and science.


The narrator needs to show his Leftist bone fides and has to write some pseudo-objective essay damning JB Peterson with faint praise while implying – giving no specifics -that he is wrong in some undefined aspects.


I never damned the guy.  I will say it again.  If we want to be successful, then we should follow Peterson.  My motivations are not to stay true to leftist viewpoints but to insightfully show that there may be some consequences to Peterson’s approach.  I have been writing about status hierarchies for years now.  And to call what I have defined below over and over as “some undefined aspects” either illustrates that they have a comprehension problem, I don’t explain myself well, or they are arguing to win instead of to learn.

I posed a hypothesis that Jordan Peterson’s moral reasoning and teachings are conservative-like through and through.  I then posed another hypothesis that his approach only encourages hyper-competition and contributes to the problem we have with status hierarchy.  Yes, no one has heard of this because it is from the ivory tower.  But over three decades’ worth of research suggests that relatively large disparities in status differences result in a reduction in health and happiness.  This may not make any sense to this individual, but I surely did define my argument.  It won’t make any sense because we need to understand what status hierarchies, relative status, and the conservative worldview are.  This individual obviously did not take the time to read the prerequisites to understanding.  I will get to meritocracy in the next post, which is not in itself evil, but has tradeoffs like any system does.

This individual had a few good points which I acknowledged.  One, they pointed out that my analysis was more of a caricature than an even-handed critique of J.B. Peterson.  I agreed.  Second, they pointed out that Peterson endorses “play”, as in being affable and, well, playful, which eases tensions when relating to others.  I agreed.  But neither of these detracts from the essence of Peterson’s approach which is conservative.  What makes a conservative a conservative?  This has been studied by experts, and I would refer those interested to George Lakoff or Jonathan Haidt.  It is in how they reason and prioritize certain moralities (by Lakoff) which is rooted in their personality (by Haidt).  If we want to know more, then I suggest we read this post.  So unless this individual understands those posts, I will not convince them that conservatism and liberalism are not just political philosophies but rather different ways in which we reason and prioritize our values with.  I doubt they will take the time to research. 

The first hypothesis can be easily shown to be true.  There are four assumptions that drive the reasoning of a conservative.  [If one cares, I would be glad to share.]  These assumptions are radial categories that can vary in different kinds of ways when applied to any particular real-life conservative.  Pick most (not all) lectures Peterson has on YouTube, and we will find evidence of these assumptions.  The stuff that is salient is the stuff that matters.  I know Peterson has more modes of reasoning than the conservative worldview, but conservatism is the stuff that overwhelmingly directs his thoughts and reasoning.  The best evidence we have that his worldview is conservative is that on every single political issue, he is on the side of a conservative.  Jordan Peterson is not stupid; he has a set of well-thought-out values.  These values influence what he chooses to teach and not teach.  As far as being a classical liberal, which libertarians think they came from, they are two steps away from being a conservative.  So it makes no difference.


I will address this, which consists of gross misunderstandings and bizarre ramblings, in the next post.

The genesis of all this Peterson-phobia (-phobia as in Hate and/or Fear) is Peterson’s refusal to kowtow to the Leftist imperative on pronouns. Previously Dr Peterson wrote several books, posted 100’s of hours of his lectures on social media. He was relatively unknown until the Leftst kerfuffle about pronouns. Dr Peterson’s fame and fortune exploded because of Leftist hysteria.

Traditional Marriage: JB Peterson supports it. So what. JB Peterson is not suppressing the gay lifestyle in any way. The pursuit of same-sex marriage to be seen as equivalent to traditional marriage is sign of incompleteness of the gay culture. Ancient Greece where homosexuality was pretty mainstream and yet same-sex marriage was absent. In Ancient Greece, where homosexuality plays a prominent role in its culture, all men are required to marry a woman. Even Alexander had to marry a woman (Roxanne) to strengthen an alliance with another nation. PLATO LAWS 636D : “… He who refuses to marry shall be thus punished in money, and also be deprived of all honour which the younger show to the elder; let no young man voluntarily obey him, and if he attempt to punish any one, let every one come to the rescue and defend the injured person, and he who is present and does not come to the rescue, shall be pronounced by the law to be a coward and a bad citizen.”
Traditional Marriage. Cultures, subcultures evolve with time, with institutions being created, destroyed, modified on some rational basis. The gay community says “Love is Love”. So why the opposition by the Gay Community to polygyny, polyandry, human-animal marriage which are embodiments of the “Love is love” principle? Can a community experiment with same-sex marriage? Yes! Why not? We will see the state of same-sex marriage in, say, 75 yrs from now. Traditional Marriage lasted thousands of years.
More on Plato. PLATO LAW, BOOK 8:”But how can we take precautions against the unnatural loves of either sex, from which innumerable evils have come upon individuals and cities? How shall we devise a remedy and way of escape out of so great a danger? … in what degree will they contribute to virtue? Will such passions implant in the soul of him who is seduced the habit of courage, or in the soul of the seducer the principle of temperance? Who will ever believe this?-or rather, who will not blame the effeminacy of him who yields to pleasures and is unable to hold out against them? ”
Transgenderism. JB Peterson’s stance on this issue is very much based on atheist – not christian – foundation. “Gender-Affirming” care. What gender is being affirmed? The spiritual gender? The material gender? Why do atheists abandon their faith on the transgenderism issue by embracing the spiritual gender over the material gender? I thought atheists do not believe in spirits, souls, ghosts, gods, and such silly stuff. The atheist’s stance on transgenderism is akin to Cargo Plane Cults where wooden planes were built as inducements for actual planes to come back with modern material goods.
“When you exclude people, then you will arouse animosity.” Excluding from what? Excluding for what reason? The politics of the American Left is politics of J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment). Animosity brings about Resentment. The politics of the Left is not so much one of Inclusion but one of Intrusion. The American Left is not comfortable, not interested in multi-cultural societies. Multiple cultures in the same physical space invariably implies that some aspects of one culture are excluded from other cultures; otherwise all cultures are one and the same resulting in a mono-cultrue society. For a harmonious multi-cultural society there should be a set of overlapping interests common to all participating cultures while – naturally – each culture maintaining exclusive aspects : the basis of federalism. And yet the American Left is bothered by “cultural appropriation”.
Is same-sex marriage just cultural appropriation from heterosexual culture? Why does gay culture want to imitate heterosexual culture? Is gay culture parasitic?
Is transgenderism just cultural appropriation from female culture? Why does transgender culture want to imitate female culture? Is transgender culture parasitic?
Mr Rogers as transphobe. Check YouTube (Mr Rogers on gender orientation — The Tonight Show 09-04-1980).
“I began to like the guy despite his beliefs.” Who cares. I doubt very much JB Peterson cares. Play the pieces on the board, not the person across the board. Facts do not care about your feelings.

Leftism encourages fear, not respect. Leftism encourages J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment).  The Left fears the competent.  The Left resents the competent.

Yes, I believe in many but not all cases envy and indignation can be at the root of a liberal worldview.

According to the dictionary, FORMIDABLE = inspiring fear or respect through being impressively large, powerful, intense, or capable. Fear (aka intimidation) versus Respect. Fear is not Respect. Fear is a reaction; respect is a decision. Going back to the subject of play, no one gets invited to play through intimidation. Peterson definitely advocates people to strive to be capable, competent, and (IMPORTANTLY) playful. Formidable and playful inspires much more respect than fear. Fear and Respect are functions of the beholder more than of said formidable person.
According to the dictionary, RESPECT = a feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements. Respect opens one to improve oneself, to educate oneself. Fear closes one to improvement and education. Leftism encourages fear, not respect. Leftism encourages J.E.A.R. (Jealousy, Envy, Anger, Resentment). The Left fears the competent. The Left resents the competent.


Sources recommended for the commentator to help them get up to speed:

[1] Anonymous. The Evolutionary Psychology Behind Politics. Federalist Publications.

[2] Boehm, Christopher. Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior. Harvard University

[3] Deaton, Angus. The Great Escape. Princeton University Press.

[4] Greene, Joshua. Moral Tribes. Penguin Publishing Group.

[5] Haidt, Jonathan. The Righteous Mind. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

[6] Kling, Arnold. The Three Languages of Politics: Talking Across the Political Divides. Cato Institute.

[7] Lakoff, George. Moral Politics. University of Chicago Press.

[8] Lakoff, George. The ALL NEW Don’t Think of an Elephant! . Chelsea Green Publishing.

[9] Lakoff, George. Philosophy In The Flesh.

[10] Lakoff, George. The Political Mind. Penguin Publishing Group.

[11] Lakoff, George. Your Brain’s Politics. Societas.

[12] Ryan, Christopher. Civilized to Death: The Price of Progress. Avid Reader Press / Simon & Schuster.

[13] Tuschman, Avi. Our Political Nature. Prometheus.

[14] Waal, Frans de. The Age of Empathy. Random House LLC

[15] Westen, Drew. The Political Brain. PublicAffairs.