Popular Delusions VII: Alien Abduction

Back in August, in "Some Thoughts on Fermi's Paradox", I proposed some explanations for why there's no evidence of intelligent alien species. But I left out what seems like the most obvious explanation of all: they do exist, and they're already here.This may well be the most popular answer. To judge by polls like this one from 2002, almost half of American adults believe that intelligent aliens have visited the Earth. (Ironically, The Onion actually gets this percentage right in its deadpan … [Read more...]

The Asch Conformity Experiment

Solomon Asch. "Opinions and social pressure." Scientific American, vol.193, no.5 (1955), p.31-35.Back in April, I wrote about the classic Milgram experiment and what it shows about how disturbingly willing people are to submit to authority, even in the presence of strong countervailing reasons. What about when the pressure to obey comes not from an authority figure above us, but from our peers? How will people fare then?A classic study was done on this question in 1955 by Solomon Asch. … [Read more...]

Inducing Superstition

The human brain is a belief-forming machine. It is what defines us as a species: we guide our actions by creating mental models of the world and using those models to hypothesize about what will happen under a given set of circumstances. Our ability to create such models far surpasses that of any other species, and accounts for our unprecedented degree of deliberate technological control over the world.However, though we are intelligent, we are not infallible. Humans of every culture and … [Read more...]

Book Review: The God Part of the Brain

(Author's Note: The following review was solicited and is written in accordance with this site's policy for such reviews.)Summary: Contains many interesting ideas, but the informed reader will find much to take issue with.Atheist Matthew Alper's The God Part of the Brain seeks to explain the religiosity of humankind in terms of human evolution and the biology of conscious experience. Alper's hypothesis is that the increased intelligence that gave human beings an evolutionary advantage also … [Read more...]

Blockbuster

A Response to Ned Block's "Blockhead"In a classic 1981 paper titled "Psychologism and Behaviourism", the philosopher Ned Block proposed a thought experiment that has been dubbed "Blockhead" in his honor. Block's experiment has to do with the Turing test, itself a classic proposal on how to test for the presence of intelligence in a machine (or some other suitable non-human agent). The Turing test consists of a human, the judge, conversing via computer terminal with two agents. One of the … [Read more...]

Priming the Mind

In a previous post from Daylight Atheism titled "On Presuppositions" (all the way back in February 2006!), I wrote about how subconscious biases and prejudices, instilled in us by culture and surroundings, can exert a disturbingly measurable effect on our behavior. However, there is more to this story that deserves to be told. In the previous post, I wrote about persistent biases, those that are apparently supported and reinforced frequently enough over long enough periods of time to become … [Read more...]

Popular Delusions IV: Hauntings

John Knott, the owner of Quadrille, a fabric and wall coverings company based in Manhattan, expected surprises when he bought a weekend home in the country, an 1839 Greek Revival house in Kinderhook in Columbia County, N.Y. Inconveniences were bound to crop up — a leaky roof, problematic plumbing, boiler issues. But he was not expecting ghosts.—Kathryn Matthews, "This Old House Has Ghosts". The New York Times, 13 October 2006.Aside from belief in God and the associated religious t … [Read more...]

On Pushing Back

The recent violence in Lebanon, as well as the worsening sectarian bloodshed in Iraq, that have dominated the headlines in recent weeks remind us of the sheer unending vindictiveness of religious warfare. Indeed, of all the worst trouble spots in the world either currently or in recent memory - Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland, India and Pakistan, Sudan - religion has played a major causative role in virtually every one. The defenders of religion assert that it has brought into the world much good … [Read more...]

Seeking the Hidden Switches

Two juxtaposed articles in the June/July issue of Scientific American Mind offer some intriguing insights into how theistic beliefs may have first developed in the human species. First, an article titled Preschool Determinists:When cognitive scientists Laura E. Schulz of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Jessica Sommerville of the University of Washington tested preschoolers, they discovered that the kids were thoroughgoing "causal determinists." The children assumed that … [Read more...]

Book Review: Breaking the Spell

Daniel Dennett has written about free will, consciousness, the mind, evolution, and natural selection. In his latest book, Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, he turns his attention to a new topic, the origin and role of religion in the human species. Although Dennett is avowedly an atheist, this book is not about whether God exists per se. Instead, it is more an exploration of how it came about, what purpose it served in the past and what purpose it serves today, and whether … [Read more...]


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