Monday, November 22, 2010

God's Death Anniversary! Let's celebrate...

Hey, unbeknown to you yourself, are you yet another of those poor victims of relentless brainwashing since childhood (when you had a very impressionable mind) who continues to BELIEVE in a god??!!! The same god, who (you unwittingly assume and nonchalantly & confidently assert that) “CREATED” everything! Then this news is for victims like you…

November 24th is the DEATH DAY of all “CREATOR” gods ;-) 

November 24th in 1859 is when Charles Darwin, arguably the greatest scientific thinker ever, finally published his “ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION, OR THE PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.” With this, the need for the idea of a god was eliminated & all CREATOR gods were put to rest & shut in a coffin, so to say… Every subsequent progress in science & knowledge has been driving another nail into the coffin of god ;-)

So, let go of all gods and other silly kiddish superstitions from the ancient times of ignorant nomads.

Remember, knowledge is empowering. Learn how the universe came about, about how life forms arose & evolved into the impressive diversity, etc. Feel liberated.

Also, PLEASE read about all the different CREATION MYTHS from all around the world from all the cultures. It’ll be hilarious.

This will hopefully encourage you to BEGIN TO THINK CRITICALLY about your own version of creation myth that your parents/other authority figures would have indoctrinated you with, since childhood.
You too will then begin to say & encourage others to say, “I SEE NO REASON OR EVIDENCE TO BELIEVE IN ANY GOD!”
PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD… 24th November ain’t too far away!

And finally, as a parting shot, check out this site for a very brief & yet comprehensive account:

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Super Comedy of the Superstition of "Evil-Eye"

I was getting bored. Tried to kill time by watching TV. Nothing interesting was on any of the usual channels (Sports, News, Music, etc). As I was surfing channels, it came across & I was jolted from my semi slumber and left exclaiming "VOILA!" There it was! A wonderful comedy show, which left me in peels of laughter. It could easily have been one of the best comedies had it not been for the dangers that it promoted.

I am talking about a paid television commercial trying to sell (read as "dupe people") something called "NAZAR SURAKSHA KAWACH". Try watching it (if you haven't already done so). I assure you that you wouldn't have watched anything funnier in a long while!

"Nazar Suraksha Kawach" can be loosely translated as "Evil-Eye Protecting Shield". The advertisement itself was damn hilarious. There were, as usual, ANECDOTAL EXPERIENCES (which NEVER count as proper evidence).

So, whenever anybody tries to tell you something based on only anecdotal evidences become alert and ask them to either show empirical evidence or stop the crap then and there!]

Some scenarios were introduced which were supposedly validating the dumb ass idea of Nazar (Evil eye) like:
-          Scratches on a newly purchased car.
-          Setbacks in studies for students.
-          Unforeseen impediments in residing in a newly constructed house.

The dramatization was damn funny. The best part was the ease with which anyone could have fathomed how the actors overacted their parts; far more than what they might have been paid for! :-)

Check out the following themes.

-          A lady narrates her anecdote of how her hubby's business was suffering, ALLEGEDLY because of some evil eye cast by another lady; BUT soon after using the Nazar Suraksha Kawach, the trend reversed! ;-)
-          A lass, who gets engaged to a well-to-do groom, finds her fiancĂ© rejecting the alliance and her marriage almost annihilated, ALLEGEDLY because of some evil eye cast by another lady; BUT soon after using the Nazar Suraksha Kawach, the marriage is restored & she gets married to the same gent! ;-)
-          Next, a real estate agent was enduring a southward dip in his profits & getting into a debt trap (Obviously because of evil eye- Nazar) BUT soon after using the Nazar Suraksha Kawach, he got back into profit! ;-)
-          Mothers talking about their kids who got sick ALLEGEDLY because of some evil eye cast by others; BUT soon after using the Nazar Suraksha Kawach, the health was restored! ;-) [I wonder why I must continue to be a pediatrician, treating sick children? Why do we need doctors? Will these dumb folks accept a prescription for a Nazar Suraksha Kawach from a doctor (or even a prescription of Kandhar Sashti Kavacham recital, gita discourse, koran recital, bible recital, etc. for that matter)? Doctors can have a tie up with the manufacturers of Nazar Suraksha Kawach, other holy yantras, etc., Special sandhanam, kungumam, vibuthi, holy water, black magic amulets (thaayathu), etc & subsidize it for the people too. Why don’t the manufacturers & the dumb users of such bullshit discuss it with the government to abandon all costly immunization programmes & begin a programme to distribute such crap devices to all kids?!! It sure can help the government save a lot of money.] Incidentally, they show the usual methods of warding off the evil eye like SALT+CHILLY rotation around the victim (Sutthi podaradhu), Placing a knife, kajal/mai dot on the face, tying threads & other equally bizarre & funny rituals as having been ineffective and only the Nazar Suraksha Kawach being effective. So, can we then use their own standards of relying on anecdotal evidence & conclude that “All the people have been having it wrong thus far with regard to techniques of warding off the ALLEGED evil eye?” :-)
There are special effects galore! :-) Victims being attacked by red laser beams emanating from the eyes of the ones casting the evil eye! :-)
Awesome graphics, right? Ha ha ha… How disgustingly cheap!!! Grrrr...
But once the Nazar suraksha kawach is used the rays will be blocked by a blue shield around the user! :-)
Go on… Laugh your ass off. I will hold on for a while here…
They then explain the alleged facts about the evil eye and how it can be harnessed by someone to channelize evil to befall on others. They try to use the idea of scriptures & other “ancient wisdom” - Now this term is one of the biggest oxymorons ever (together with True-God, Peaceful-Religion, Gospel-Truth, etc)
They even have a very funny segment where (allegedly) a scientist (he is more of a joker really) allegedly provides scientific proof validating the idea! Ha ha ha ha ha… 
They only showed a fellow who was supposedly a “Research Analyst” who spouted out some crap (obviously for the money that he would have got). I am sure that his only research would have involved scratching his chin thoughtfully analyzing the anecdotes mentioned above and arriving at the predetermined conclusion that evil eye exists and it can ONLY be warded off by the Nazar Suraksha Kawach! :-)

These crap (& costly- this one is Rs.2500/-!!! There are plenty of such Kawach-s and Yantra-s to sucker the gullible mindless believers in gods & other such dumb ass superstitions!) artifacts won’t ward off any evil eye, etc – BECAUSE THERE IS NOTHING LIKE EVIL EYE, etc- but it sure will ward your hard earned money off your wallet! And for the few rational people these advertisements sure would help ward off the stress carried over a busy day! You can watch these comedy shows daily before retiring to bed for a peaceful sleep or you can start your day with these comedy shows to reminisce the whole day or narrate to others around & keep laughing. :-)
The superstition of EVIL EYE is nothing but another classic example of Post Hoc fallacy. (It happened after, so it follows.) Finding a causal association where none exists. When the bulb glows after the switch is turned on, there is a causal association; but the sun rising AFTER the cock crows?!! You get the point, right? :-)

Shame on TV channels who allow such dangerous, superstitious contents on their channel just for money. Now what else can you expect from the media who promote astrology, horoscopy, tarot cards, homeopathy, etc? These are people who won’t mind selling their mothers & wives for money!
There are a hell of a lot of cunning tricksters in India ready to prey on the credulity of the superstitious folks and unfortunately the gullible people become their victims. (borrowing the idea from Prof. Dan Dennet's "Breaking The Spell: Religion as A Natural Phenomenon") Such silly superstitions are the main reason why people fall into the clutches of cult leaders (Kalki bagawan, Amma bagawan, Sathya Sai Baba, Nithyananda, Premananda, Amritanandamayi, Baba Ramdeo, etc) & are duped into giving their lifesavings to such cunning con artists.

As I often say, "All superstitions happen because of 4 factors":

1.       FEAR: People are afraid to risk the alleged mishap that they’re brainwashed to believe will befall them if such & such a thing is not done. The rationale being “Why take a chance?” If you don’t do THIS, then you’ll face misfortune, etc. :-)
2.       IGNORANCE: This is the greatest impediment to peace & progress. When you’re ignorant of how the world works, you can pretty much fall for any bullshit. As long as there are ignorant suckers waiting to be duped, con artists will flourish to sucker them! When you are ignorant of the fact that there is nothing like black magic, evil spirits, gods, ghosts, ghouls, poltergeists, etc. any wicked charlatan can take you for a ride!
3.       GRIEF: Ever noticed how superstitions always flourish during times of grief? When you’re ill/ suffering setbacks/ going to take an exam ;-), etc. you always want to pray to god, try some lucky charm, perform some ritual that you perceive will help, wear some amulet, etc.
4.       GREED: But of course! Most people are never content- MORE IS NEVER ENOUGH for them. This naturally gives rise to superstitions again.

You are a fool to go after these products or believe in such superstitions. Build some self confidence, read good books/ listen to good lectures or audiobooks/ see good documentaries & ACQUIRE KNOWLEDGE, learn to always be rational, practical & cheerful and you would be better off in this world.

And finally, just imagine yourself walking around wearing an anti-Evil Eye amulet believing you can bounce evil vision-beams off others’ eyes to make them turn around. Won't you feel dumb? And won’t the others around laugh out loud at you & your silly antics & silly beliefs?!! :-)

As always, please make use of (Click here) THE BALONEY DETECTION KIT! (click here) In fact, take a printout & always keep this with you to analyze any claim made to you or assumption made by you yourself.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A Wonderful Song!

Gosh! What a wonderful song... And the one who has compiled this video seems to have put in so much effort & invested so much emotion into it! Hope the one to whom this was originally meant understands!
Check it out:

"Now, what's this post got to do with Rationality?", you might ask. Well let me clarify. Perhaps, let's say there is some misunderstanding between the two of them... But by analyzing the situation rationally (THE BALONEY DETECTION KIT posted before can surely help) the misunderstandings can be overcome!
Always strive to arrive at the truth!
Remember: Authority must not be the truth; rather, truth must be the authority!!!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Don't know whether to :-) or :-(

A guest had come home & wanted to go to Tirupati. The atheist that I am, I responsibly explained the futility in believing in such kiddish ideas. But others just wanted to oblige that request & NOT WANTING TO LEAVE ME ALONE AT HOME (I was not in a good mood) they asked me to come along. Fine then, I thought I'll use this as one more opportunity to educate and win a few people back into the rational fold & free these victims of childhood indoctrination off their delusions.

I took my car & drove. Tried to enjoy the drive.. Swerving at >110 KMPH, etc was thrilling & honestly, I didn't mind one bit the dangers & inherent risk to my life; but then I realized that I should not endanger the lives of others in the car for my whims! Slowed down to acceptable speeds. A unique experience for me- Listening to the audio track alone while all others were watching a movie (Obviously, you can't drive & watch the movie simultaneously!) Without knowing what's happening, who are the characters, etc. I was just trying to enjoy the music & songs by A.R.Rahman.

Reached there in about a li'l less than 3 Hours. It was funny how ultimately ONLY the guest & my granny went into the temple :-) The rest of the people understood the irrationality of the entire thing & opted to stay back till the two gullible & credulous believers (the guest & my granny) went in to take "DARSHAN" and "PRAY". The rest of us were promoting the OutCampaign.Org right in the "holy town", through the decal in my car. :-)

I just recalled a version of the story of the presiding god of Tirumala. As per this version, his wife gets separated from him and stays down below at Tirupati. It's supposed to be that she will reunite with him the day no devotee comes to visit him.

And then I mused to myself,
"Boy, oh boy! How happy & eager people are to separate a married couple!" :-( Why don't people just stop flocking to this temple & let the man & his wife enjoy some marital bliss??!!! :-)

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Most Important Education for All: Critical Thinking!

Even a hard core criminal is allowed the luxury of a trial before being pronounced guilty! Why rush to a conclusion straightaway? Is it not morally & ethically just to try & understand the entirety of a situation before taking a decision??!!!

I urge all of you to use the famous BALONEY DETECTION KIT (by the great Carl Sagan) to analyze any situation or claim before arriving at a conclusion:

What skeptical thinking boils down to is the means to construct, and to understand, a reasoned argument and -- especially important -- to recognize a fallacious or fraudulent argument.

The question is not whether we like the conclusion that emerges out of a train of reasoning, but whether the conclusion follows from the premise or starting point and whether that premise is true.

Among the tools:

• Wherever possible there must be independent confirmation of the "facts." (Whatever you are presented with or you have assumed)

• Encourage substantive debate on the evidence by knowledgeable proponents of all points of view.

Arguments from authority carry little weight -- "authorities" have made mistakes in the past. They will do so again in the future. Perhaps a better way to say it is that in science there are no authorities; at most, there are experts.

Spin more than one hypothesis. If there's something to be explained, think of all the different ways in which it could be explained. Then think of tests by which you might systematically disprove each of the alternatives. What survives, the hypothesis that resists disproof in this Darwinian selection among "multiple working hypotheses," has a much better chance of being the right answer than if you had simply run with the first idea that caught your fancy.*

* NOTE: This is a problem that affects jury trials. Retrospective studies show that some jurors make up their minds very early -- perhaps during opening arguments -- and then retain the evidence that seems to support their initial impressions and reject the contrary evidence. The method of alternative working hypotheses is not running in their heads.

Try not to get overly attached to a hypothesis just because it's yours. It's only a way station in the pursuit of knowledge. Ask yourself why you like the idea. Compare it fairly with the alternatives. See if you can find reasons for rejecting it. If you don't, others will.

Quantify. If whatever it is you're explaining has some measure, some numerical quantity attached to it, you'll be much better able to discriminate among competing hypotheses. What is vague and qualitative is open to many explanations. Of course there are truths to be sought in the many qualitative issues we are obliged to confront, but finding them is more challenging.

If there's a chain of argument, every link in the chain must work (including the premise) -- not just most of them.

Occam's Razor. This convenient rule-of-thumb urges us when faced with two hypotheses that explain the data equally well to choose the simpler.

Always ask whether the hypothesis can be, at least in principle, falsified.
Propositions that are untestable, unfalsifiable are not worth much. Consider the grand idea that our Universe and everything in it is just an elementary particle -- an electron, say -- in a much bigger Cosmos. But if we can never acquire information from outside our Universe, is not the idea incapable of disproof? You must be able to check assertions out. Inveterate skeptics must be given the chance to follow your reasoning, to duplicate your experiments and see if they get the same result. The reliance on carefully designed and controlled experiments is key, as I tried to stress earlier. We will not learn much from mere contemplation. It is tempting to rest content with the first candidate explanation we can think of. One is much better than none. But what happens if we can invent several? How do we decide among them? We don't. We let experiment do it. Francis Bacon provided the classic reason: Argumentation cannot suffice for the discovery of new work, since the subtlety of Nature is greater many times than the subtlety of argument.

Control experiments are essential. If, for example, a new medicine is alleged to cure a disease 20 percent of the time, we must make sure that a control population, taking a dummy sugar pill which as far as the subjects know might be the new drug, does not also experience spontaneous remission of the disease 20 percent of the time.

Variables must be separated. Suppose you're seasick, and given both an acupressure bracelet and 50 milligrams of meclizine. You find the unpleasantness vanishes. What did it -- the bracelet or the pill? You can tell only if you take the one without the other, next time you're seasick. Now imagine that you're not so dedicated to science as to be willing to be seasick. Then you won't separate the variables. You'll take both remedies again. You've achieved the desired practical result; further knowledge, you might say, is not worth the discomfort of attaining it.

Often the experiment must be done "double-blind," so that those hoping for a certain finding are not in the potentially compromising position of evaluating the results. In testing a new medicine, for example, you might want the physicians who determine which patients' symptoms are relieved not to know which patients have been given the new drug. The knowledge might influence their decision, even if only unconsciously. Instead the list of those who experienced remission of symptoms can be compared with the list of those who got the new drug, each independently ascertained. Then you can determine what correlation exists.
Or in conducting a police lineup or photo identification, the officer in charge should not know who the prime suspect is, so as not consciously or unconsciously to influence the witness.

In addition to teaching us what to do when evaluating a claim to knowledge, any good baloney detection kit must also teach us what not to do. It helps us recognize the most common and perilous fallacies of logic and rhetoric. Many good examples can be found in religion and politics, because their practitioners are so often obliged to justify two contradictory propositions. Among these fallacies are:

ad hominem -- Latin for "to the man," attacking the arguer and not the argument (e.g., The Reverend Dr. Smith is a known Biblical fundamentalist, so her objections to evolution need not be taken seriously);

argument from authority (e.g., President Richard Nixon should be re-elected because he has a secret plan to end the war in Southeast Asia -- but because it was secret, there was no way for the electorate to evaluate it on its merits; the argument amounted to trusting him because he was President: a mistake, as it turned out);

argument from adverse consequences (e.g., A God meting out punishment and reward must exist, because if He didn't, society would be much more lawless and dangerous -- perhaps even ungovernable.*
Or: The defendant in a widely publicized murder trial must be found guilty; otherwise, it will be an encouragement for other men to murder their wives);

* NOTE: A more cynical formulation by the Roman historian Polybius:
Since the masses of the people are inconstant, full of unruly desires, passionate, and reckless of consequences, they must be filled with fears to keep them in order. The ancients did well, therefore, to invent gods, and the belief in punishment after death.

appeal to ignorance -- the claim that whatever has not been proved false must be true, and vice versa
(e.g., There is no compelling evidence that UFOs are not visiting the Earth; therefore UFOs exist -- and there is intelligent life elsewhere in the Universe.
Or: There may be seventy kazillion other worlds, but not one is known to have the moral advancement of the Earth, so we're still central to the Universe.) This impatience with ambiguity can be criticized in the phrase: absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

special pleading, often to rescue a proposition in deep rhetorical trouble
(e.g., How can a merciful God condemn future generations to torment because, against orders, one woman induced one man to eat an apple?
Special plead: you don't understand the subtle Doctrine of Free Will.

Or: How can there be an equally godlike Father, Son, and Holy Ghost in the same Person?
Special plead: You don't understand the Divine Mystery of the Trinity.

Or: How could God permit the followers of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam -- each in their own way enjoined to heroic measures of loving kindness and compassion -- to have perpetrated so much cruelty for so long?
Special plead: You don't understand Free Will again. And anyway, God moves in mysterious ways.)

begging the question, also called assuming the answer
(e.g., We must institute the death penalty to discourage violent crime
But does the violent crime rate in fact fall when the death penalty is imposed?
Or: The stock market fell yesterday because of a technical adjustment and profit-taking by investors --
but is there any independent evidence for the causal role of "adjustment" and profit-taking;
have we learned anything at all from this purported explanation?);

observational selection, also called the enumeration of favorable circumstances, or as the philosopher Francis Bacon described it, counting the hits and forgetting the misses* (e.g., A state boasts of the Presidents it has produced, but is silent on its serial killers);
* NOTE: My favorite example is this story, told about the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi, newly arrived on American shores, enlisted in the Manhattan nuclear weapons Project, and brought face-to-face in the midst of World War 11 with U.S. flag officers: So-and-so is a great general, he was told. What is the definition of a great general? Fermi characteristically asked.
I guess it's a general who's won many consecutive battles.
How many?
After some back and forth, they settled on five.
What fraction of American generals are great?
After some more back and forth, they settled on a few percent.
But imagine, Fermi rejoined, that there is no such thing as a great general, that
all armies are equally matched, and that winning a battle is purely a matter of
chance. Then the chance of winning one battle is one out of two, or 1/2, two
battles l/4, three l/8, four l/16, and five consecutive battles 1/32 -- which is about
3 percent. You would expect a few percent of American generals to win five
consecutive battles -- purely by chance. Now, has any of them won ten consecutive battles ...?

statistics of small numbers -- a close relative of observational selection (e.g., "They say 1 out of every 5 people is Chinese. How is this possible? I know hundreds of people, and none of them is Chinese. Yours truly."
Or: "I've thrown three sevens in a row. Tonight I can't lose."- THE CLASSIC GAMBLER'S FALLACY.)

misunderstanding of the nature of statistics (e.g., President Dwight Eisenhower expressing astonishment and alarm on discovering that fully half of all Americans have below average intelligence);

inconsistency (e.g., Prudently plan for the worst of which a potential military adversary is capable, but thriftily ignore scientific projections on environmental dangers because they're not "proved."
Or: Attribute the declining life expectancy in the former Soviet Union to the failures of communism many years ago, but never attribute the high infant mortality rate in the United States (now highest of the major industrial nations) to the failures of capitalism.
Or: Consider it reasonable for the Universe to continue to exist forever into the future, but judge absurd the possibility that it has infinite duration into the past);

non sequitur -- Latin for "It doesn't follow"
(e.g., Our nation will prevail because God is great.
But nearly every nation pretends this to be true; the German formulation was "Gott mit uns").
Often those falling into the non sequitur fallacy have simply failed to recognize alternative possibilities;

post hoc, ergo propter hoc -- Latin for "It happened after, so it was caused by"
(e.g., Jaime Cardinal Sin, Archbishop of Manila: "I know of ... a 26-year-old who looks 60 because she takes [contraceptive] pills."
Or: Before women got the vote, there were no nuclear weapons);

meaningless question (e.g., What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? But if there is such a thing as an irresistible force there can be no immovable objects, and vice versa);

excluded middle, or false dichotomy -- considering only the two extremes in a continuum of intermediate possibilities
(e.g., "Sure, take his side; my husband's perfect; I'm always wrong."
Or: "Either you love your country or you hate it."
Or: "If you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem");

short-term vs. long-term -- a subset of the excluded middle, but so important I've pulled it out for special attention (e.g., We can't afford programs to feed malnourished children and educate pre-school kids. We need to urgently deal with crime on the streets.
Or: Why explore space or pursue fundamental science when we have so huge a budget deficit?);

slippery slope, related to excluded middle (e.g., If we allow abortion in the first weeks of pregnancy, it will be impossible to prevent the killing of a full-term infant.
Or, conversely: If the state prohibits abortion even in the ninth month, it will soon be telling us what to do with our bodies around the time of conception);

confusion of correlation and causation (e.g., A survey shows that more college graduates are homosexual than those with lesser education; therefore education makes people gay.
Or: Andean earthquakes are correlated with closest approaches of the planet Uranus; therefore -- despite the absence of any such correlation for the nearer, more massive planet Jupiter -- the latter causes the former*);
* NOTE: Children who watch violent TV programs tend to be more violent when they grow up. But did the TV cause the violence, or do violent children preferentially enjoy watching violent programs? Very likely both are true.
Commercial defenders of TV violence argue that anyone can distinguish between television and reality. But Saturday morning children's programs now average 25 acts of violence per hour. At the very least this desensitizes young children to aggression and random cruelty. And if impressionable adults can have false memories implanted in their brains, what are we implanting in our children when we expose them to some 100,000 acts of violence before they graduate from elementary school?
straw man -- caricaturing a position to make it easier to attack
(e.g., Scientists suppose that living things simply fell together by chance -- a formulation that willfully ignores the central Darwinian insight, that Nature ratchets up by saving what works and discarding what doesn't.
Or -- this is also a short-term/long-term fallacy -- environmentalists care more for snail darters and spotted owls than they do for people);

suppressed evidence, or half-truths (e.g., An amazingly accurate and widely quoted "prophecy" of the assassination attempt on President Reagan is shown on television; but -- an important detail -- was it recorded before or after the event?
Or: These government abuses demand revolution, even if you can't make an omelette without breaking some eggs. Yes, but is this likely to be a revolution in which far more people are killed than under the previous regime? What does the experience of other revolutions suggest? Are all revolutions against oppressive regimes desirable and in the interests of the people?);

weasel words (e.g., The separation of powers of the U.S. Constitution specifies that the United States may not conduct a war without a declaration by Congress.
On the other hand, Presidents are given control of foreign policy and the conduct of wars, which are potentially powerful tools for getting themselves re-elected.
Presidents of either political party may therefore be tempted to arrange wars while waving the flag and calling the wars something else -- "police actions," "armed incursions," "protective reaction strikes," "pacification," "safeguarding American interests," and a wide variety of "operations," such as "Operation Just Cause." Euphemisms for war are one of a broad class of reinventions of language for political purposes.
Talleyrand said, "An important art of politicians is to find new names for institutions which under old names have become odious to the public").

Knowing the existence of such logical and rhetorical fallacies rounds out our toolkit. Like all tools, the baloney detection kit can be misused, applied out of context, or even employed as a rote alternative to thinking. But applied judiciously, it can make all the difference in the world -- not least in evaluating our own arguments before we present them to others.