Saturday, 7 November 2015

Ideas for anyone who is convinced about beliefs that others disagree with.

I have noticed that many people are convinced about beliefs, even though others are equally convinced of beliefs that contradict them.  They all have their evidence, so you're not going to change their view by arguing with them.  Each person has to examine their own thoughts.  Here are some ideas.

Consider why others disagree with you, and try and understand their point of view.  Are they just as convinced as you are?  Do they think they have just as much evidence as you have?  Have they taken as much effort questioning and trying to disprove their beliefs as you have?  Do they have the same beliefs as their parents, or did they arrive at their conclusions through independent research?

Be honest with yourself.  Dig deep and consider whether your goal is really to know the truth, or just to protect your beliefs?

Truth is stronger than a diamond.
Truth is stronger than a diamond.  No matter how much you question or test it, it will remain unchanged.  It does not require constant affirmation or faith in order to exist.

Try to disprove your beliefs.  If you only try to prove, but not disprove your beliefs, you will believe anything.  Anyone who tries hard enough to find evidence for their beliefs will find it, regardless of what that belief is.

Search Google for counter-arguments.  There is no need to be afraid.  If those beliefs really are true, then the stronger evidence and answers that you find will verify that, and increase those beliefs.  If the beliefs are not entirely true and you find evidence against them, or logical problems, then you would have been better off without those beliefs in the first place.

Read books on critical thinking.  Learn about cognitive dissonance and how it affects your thinking.  Learn about logical fallacies, overcoming cognitive biases, open mindedness, the scientific method and double blind, randomized, controlled trials.  Read about persuasion and cult tactics.

Get away from everything that influences your beliefs for a month.  Travel to another country and spend your time with people who have completely different beliefs.

Never stop learning.

Books to read to improve thinking skills
YouTube channels to improve thinking skills

Image credits:


Sunday, 11 October 2015

List of YouTube channels to improve thinking skills

In an earlier blog post I listed books that can help to improve thinking skills.  I find that disagreeing with people hardly ever ends well, and often leads to people feeling even stronger about their beliefs, having put so much effort into defending them.  So I prefer to just share information and hope that people will arrive at better conclusions by themselves.

Perhaps some people would like to improve their thinking by watching videos, so here are a list of YouTube channels which can help to improve your thinking skills:

QualiaSoup makes easy to follow videos, often related to thinking, like his Critical Thinking and Open-mindedness videos.
Kevin deLeplante uploads lots of  critical thinking, logic and fallacy related videos.
Julia Galef is president and co-founder of the Center for Applied Rationality.  She uploads a short video once a week or so on something interesting.
James Randi Foundation.  James Randi is a magician, who understands how our minds can be tricked and likes to share information about critical thinking.
Bo Bennett has a channel listing a number of critical thinking related videos.

Interesting videos

Dr. Michael Hewitt-Gleeson teaches the CVS2BVS switch.  This is a very simple, but effective strategy from his free PDF book, Software for your Brain.
My video on critical thinking
Edward de Bono's thinking course

Other channels that may be of interest

Science Literacy (A new channel)
Skeptic Magazine
TED (Interesting talks)
Massimo Pigliucci (A philosopher)

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Democratic Intelligence in a Nutshell

There is already a lot of software available that governments can use for referendums.  I therefore don't have any desire to work on software that a government could use simply to get opinions and votes.  My interest is in software that a government is actually using or is going to use, or on my site, Democratic Intelligence.

One of the things that makes my site different is that, although a government could use it, the main intention is to create an international network of decision makers and volunteers.  It's more like crowdsourcing than traditional democracy, and while it can be used for small decisions, my ultimate, utopian dream is for the idea to eventually replace traditional democracy and unite the world, making country borders obsolete.

The following are the principles that Democratic Intelligence is based on:

  • International (uniting, and can even spread into countries ruled by dictators, rather than being specific to a single country)
  • Self-improving (the system is designed to continuously change and improve itself through use - users can create suggestions for improvement and volunteers can implement the suggestions)
  • Fully democratic (anyone can create suggestions (not just a government) and anyone can vote and volunteer / implement)
  • Meritocratic (people earn points in various subjects in order to have a stronger weighting of arguments and votes)
  • Critical thinking (competency in all subjects requires competency in critical thinking)
  • Transparent
  • Gamification (points are earned to encourage use of the system)
  • Goal oriented (the entire system exists for a single, unified purpose)

With that said, I assume that most activists have their own ideas about what the ideal system would be that they want to be involved in.  As for me, I have put a lot of effort into my idea, and now I just want people to use it regularly, so that it will self-improve and grow, even if that means using my system to collaborate on ideas for building a better system, or one that serves a different purpose.

For full details, take a look at my chapter in Anticipating Tomorrow's Politics.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

My Predictions

As someone who's interested in the future, I thought I'd give my predictions on what it's going to be like.  I know that it's impossible to accurately predict the future, so I don't expect these to be perfect, but it will be interesting to look at this in the future and see if I was spot on or slightly delusional.

When thinking of the future, one has to think exponentially, which I don't think comes naturally, and which is why so many people underestimate the speed at which change will happen.  Looking at the past, there were hundreds of thousands of years during which humans progressed very slowly.  Then in the 1800's we had trains, in the 1900's we had cars and now, in 2015, a spacecraft has arrived at Pluto, which is billions of miles away.

In the past ten years alone we have developed things that we might not have thought possible.  My internet speed is about a thousand times faster, we have cars that can drive themselves and computers which we can talk to, that live in our pockets.

For the future, the exponential trend means that we could advance as much as we did in the last ten years in the next five, which is mind blowing.

So, given the exponential trend, this is what I predict for the next ten years:

The self driving capability of vehicles will become standard in new cars and trucks.  In order to save money, companies will start replacing truck drivers with self-driving trucks.  I'd guess that about a quarter of truck drivers will lose their jobs in the next ten years, with some truck drivers becoming truck guards.  In twenty years the concept of a professional truck driver may no longer exist.

Supermarkets will improve the efficiency and automation of checkouts.  I'd guess that in ten years time there will be shops in which you'll be able to pick an item off the shelf and walk out of the shop, and everything you've chosen will automatically be paid for from your bank account.  There may be people employed who pack the shelves, but robots will also be used for this purpose.  Except where a supermarket decides to employ people purely for job creation, I don't think there will be people at checkout counters.  That will be pointless.  There will probably be a few security guards who are notified of potential incidents by computer systems programmed to identify suspicious activity.

Governments and economic systems will take a long time to catch up with technology, leaving millions of people unemployed and struggling to make ends meet.  This will also lead to more advanced crime, and more advanced crime fighting technology.

We will continue to pollute more, increase our greenhouse gas emissions, increase our energy consumption and use up forests and other resources.  This is due to the short term profit motives built into our current economic system, which is very resilient to change.


In about twenty-five years time I think that AGI (artificial general intelligence) will be able to do pretty much everything that humans can do, making human jobs irrelevant.  By this time governments and citizens will hopefully have realized that the entire economic system no longer works, and a guaranteed basic income will have been implemented in most countries, making it unnecessary to try to find a paying job.  After this the concepts of money and ownership will be phased out.  One will be allocated a home and be able to switch homes, but nothing will really belong to anyone since there will be an abundance of everything.

The result of this system change will be that we can change our priorities to address all of the environmental issues that we've created, hopefully reversing the damage before it's too late.


After a hundred years everything will become unrecognizable.  Our AGI will have learned everything there is to know about consciousness and be able to build consciousness generators (like brains).  The idea of still having a meat based body that can get damaged, wear out and contract diseases will be ridiculous.  We will simply be consciousness that experiences adventures we cannot even fathom today.

The next challenge to the AGI will be to protect us from extra terrestrial threats like comets, supernovas and eventually, the end of the universe.

Image credits:


Sunday, 16 August 2015

List of books to improve thinking skills

Here's a list of books that I enjoyed, that can help to improve thinking skills:

Software for Your Brain (Download for free)
English Thinking: The Three Methods (Updated version of Software for Your Brain)
Mistakes Were Made, But Not By Me (Easy to read book on cognitive dissonance)
Your Deceptive Mind (Audio book on critical thinking)
The Demon Haunted World (Carl Sagan's excellent book on critical thinking)
When Prophecy Fails (Practical example of cognitive dissonance)
Bad Science (Mostly about medicine and how to figure out which ones to trust)
Tricks of the Mind (For fans of the magician Derren Brown)
Nonsense On Stilts (Discussions about various topics)

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Misconceptions about what science can prove.

One of my best friends shared this very interesting and thought provoking video on Facebook recently.  He didn't share the video directly from YouTube, but instead shared this link, containing the video.  The title on that page is "Science Has Finally Proven That Atheism Defies Any Logic and Reason."

For about the past ten years or so I've grown to realize how bad I was at knowing whether I really had enough evidence for what I believed, or whether I was just looking for evidence which wasn't actually there.  In an attempt to improve my objectivity, I've read many books on critical thinking and the scientific method.  It's really eye opening doing so, and something I'd recommend for everyone.

Anyway, the reason for this post is to point out why the title given to the video is very misleading.  Primarily, because the scientific method, possibly one of humanity's greatest inventions, doesn't actually prove anything.  The scientific method goes something like this:  define a question, gather information, formulate a hypothesis, do tests to try and disprove the hypothesis and publish your findings so that other people can try to disprove the hypothesis.  As you can see, a scientist is always trying to do whatever he can to disprove something.  If he and his peers have done everything they can to disprove the hypothesis, they can sometimes say that the evidence shows that the hypothesis is beyond reasonable doubt.  This however does not prove the hypothesis.  It's a bit like saying that I know beyond reasonable doubt that I do not live in the Matrix, but I cannot prove it, because there could always be an unknown factor that I'm not taking into account.

It is quite normal for people to try to find evidence to back up what they already believe, for example, a Muslim might watch this video and decide that this is proof for Allah.  An atheist might watch the video and decide that it is proof that there were at least 2 to the power of 10 quintillion big bangs.  A scientist, however, would try to be objective, figure out the premises that support the argument and try to disprove them, or find alternative explanations.

So, lets try to examine the video and see objectively what this man is saying:

He is actually creating an argument based on four premises, which are quite hard to define, but I think it's something like this (feel free to suggest improvements):

1. The odds of a randomly generated big bang (or big bang attempt), generating a universe capable of supporting life are much less than 1/n, where n is approximately 2 to the power of 10 quintillion.
2. The number of big bangs (or big bang attempts) that ever have existed is much less than n.
3. If a universe (or big bang) is not randomly generated, then it can be only have come about through the intelligence of an incredibly intelligent super being.
4. Life exists.

So, in order for this man's argument to be proven, all of these have to be proven to be 100% true.

The fourth one is definitely true, however, lets take a look at the other three:

1. Figuring out what the odds of a big bang generating a universe capable of supporting life is an incredibly hard thing to do.  You basically have to be a super genius, knowing every single possible way that life can be formed and supported.  For example, the notion of Jupiter protecting Earth from all the asteroids is a fascinating one, but a much simpler way for a planet to be protected from asteroids is not to place any asteroids there in the first place.  Another supposed requirement, might, for example, be water, however can we prove that consciousness always requires water?  Do we even have a clue about what consciousness is made of?

2. The assumption is that the number of big bangs, (or big bang attempts) is one, or less than 2 to the power of 10 quintillion.  We can prove that the number of universes is at least one, but I don't think that there's any way to prove that the number of big bangs is any less than 2 to the power of googolplex.

3. Can we assume that a deity-like creator's intelligence is the only possible way for a structured universe to exist?  Firstly there's the problem of the intelligent creator's prior existence:  We could ask the question, "What are the odds of fundamental rules existing that are capable of supporting a creator?"  Do we know the fundamental rules that generated the rules for the generating the universe?  Perhaps consciousness (or life) is simply fundamental, and the fundamental rules governing everything simply require life to exist.

But let us, for argument's sake assume that all three premises are more or less reasonable, e.g. 75% likely to be true.

That would mean that the argument would be 75% X 75% X 75% likely to be true.  In other words:  42% likely to be true... slightly less than the flip of a coin.  One would then, however, also need to take into consideration all other arguments for and against the existence of an intelligent creator to get a more accurate probability.

My conclusion is simply this:  Science cannot prove the existence of an intelligent creator.  Religions, such as Christianity and Islam, require the concept of faith, which is not scientific at all.  Faith, according to can be described as "belief that is not based on proof."  If your deity of choice appeared to you visibly, and spoke to you, showing evidence beyond reasonable doubt that he exists, then your belief would no longer be based on faith.  If faith was based on evidence that could be comprehended, then the smartest and most objective scientists in the world would be in the right religion, and the less intelligent, less objective & scientific people would not.  As it is, faith is more likely to be based on the faith of a person's parents and the person's geographical location than anything else.