Saturday, May 28, 2011

Post Apocalyptic Earth

While I thought it was great that everyone was mocking the fundies for their rapture (and if a lighthearted jab is what you're looking for, you won't find it here), gently eroding the credibility of religion one joke and party at a time, something struck me as distinctly disturbing about the group that put out the message. Clearly it's a cult of some sort, but all people thought about was the message of that cult, not the poor, broken souls within.
Let me explain something briefly. The people in cults are not the mindless zombies that are so popular in Hollywood and most other media. Cultists are very normal individuals who were vulnerable, or lost and looking for a home. That's when the cult leader swoops in, and, like a used car salesman, takes them for everything they've got. Only the cult leader doesn't just get a paycheck, at least in this instance, but dozens if not hundreds of them until the people leave, and that's made difficult by human psychology. Once you've given in to cause, it's very difficult to pull yourself out. Cognitive dissonance, as I mentioned here, comes into play, as well as the sunk cost fallacy.
The sunk cost fallacy keeps you committed to a sinking ship. A usual case goes like this: You're paying into an investment such as a mutual fund that isn't making any money, and now has a dim chance of ever paying off (similar to playing the lottery every week, but not quite). Rather than pulling out, as is the financially sound decision, you continue to pay in, in hopes that it will eventually pay off. As your hopes grow slimmer and slimmer, you continue paying in because you don't want to have paid into it for no reason, for all that money to be wasted. Or to avoid looking like an idiot for investing in the first place. In any case, the normal human reaction is to continue investing. It only seems idiotic when viewed from outside.
That's exactly what cultists do. They commit, more and more every time they donate money, time, effort, or blood to the cult. I know a woman whose daughter died because they insisted on praying for her. The reaction? Stay in the cult. She's already committed a daughter. Let her sacrifice be in vain? Never! That's the problem with cults.
So, my heart goes out to the cultists who weren't taking in the money, who weren't putting up the billboards, who weren't profiting in the endeavor because their very lives are owned by this buffoon who has been taken in by his own schtick so much that he was willing to look like an international idiot. And he's doing it again, later this year- says there was a miscalculation.
Just remember this for next time- the pastor's a joke, but the cult is no laughing matter. Then again, the Seventh Day Adventists got started the same way...

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The 10% Myth

It seems like every show I watch has to bring up the ten percent myth. The one where we only use ten percent of our brains, and how we would be so much better if we could only unleash the other 90%. Sorry to tell you folks, we use 100% of our brains. The problem is that we don't always use it very well.
There's any number of proofs of this fact, but this myth keeps coming back, so I'll join the literally hundreds if not thousands of science bloggers who tackle it, in the hopes to nudge it down a scoche.
You can look at the biological basis for our brains. Evolution, in it's infinite cleverness, cobbled together a bigger, calorie devouring brain. Our brain burns more calories than just about any organ, making it a total waste if we only use ten percent of it. Evolution would trim that down, and quickly. Look how coyotes walk compared with domestic dogs- coyotes are the pinnacle of efficiency, walking with their feet perfectly in line, every movement controlled and efficient. Energy wasted means life expectancy decreased, and the easiest way to get selected out is to reduce your longevity, especially early on. Dogs, on the other hand, don't need to worry as much about food, because they have wisely taken on humans as their masters and get fed almost whenever they want. This is an artifact of human interference. Bottom line, our brains are as big as they need to be for what they do.
Well, that's fine, maybe we only use 10 percent at a time. This is closer to true. While FMRIs (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imagers) show that we use 100% of our brains, they do only show us using certain parts at any given time, but it's not limited to 10% and for multiple tasks, more areas in the brain light up. This should completely gut the myth, but of course it doesn't. It's appeared in shows like CSI, House, and almost anything on SyFy.
Which brings me to the latter point- that most of us don't use our brains as well as we could. While many of us are thinkers, few of us are good thinkers. It takes discipline and practice to think critically, which is one of my reasons for posting on topics like cognitive dissonance and more to come in the future. Knowing how our brain works can only make us better, clearer thinkers. At least, that's what I like to think.