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Life at № 42

The Butchering of the Age of Reason – via TDB

“Our country is in a crisis that threatens to set us back 400 years.

I know this sounds dramatic, and I am not talking about politics, I’m talking about reversing the Age of Reason, which ushered in a period of unprecedented intellectual, economic, and social growth. The Enlightenment, as it is also called, drew a line in the sand between rumor and fact, between testable hypotheses and anecdote, and between demonstrable facts and nonsense. Prior to the Age of Reason, people who heard voices in their heads might have been drowned or burned at the stake as witches; by the 20th century we had identified a biological disease that causes this (schizophrenia) and developed drugs to treat it. The Age of Reason led us to the germ theory of disease, penicillin, and—although it took a while and is still not ubiquitous—women’s rights, child labor laws, and a reduction in racism.

And, until the last few months, it allowed we citizens to engage in constructive discussion with elected officials about public policy matters, based on facts. It has allowed a free and independent press, with trained investigative journalists, to help us understand what is true and what is not. If the current administration brands as “fake” facts they find inconvenient, it undermines the entire political system. If we are going to throw out facts as a prerequisite to discussion, we are reversing centuries of cognitive progress.”

Full text: The Butchering of the Age of Reason – The Daily Beast

This is a discussion that really must be had. In the article Daniel Levitin (Professor of psychology and behavioral neuroscience at McGill University, Montreal) describes at length what is nothing other than an assault on evidence based thinking and reason. He doesn’t break down the method they’re using, which I think is vitally important so people can recognize the trick. The spurious logical progression they’re promoting is in essence that it’s “impossible to know things”, and so any opinion on a matter has the same value. You can see an attempt at promoting that trope here. This is, of course, an old religious tactic. The obvious problem is in the math, they rely on the exception to prove the rule. For example, economists didn’t all predict the financial crisis, and so economists can’t be right about anything; and so the opinion of someone who knows diddly about economy is as valid as that of the person who has dedicated their life to studying economy. 

The problem with that type of thinking should be very easily spotted. Failing to predict an international crisis that had a whole range of underlying factors doesn’t make an economist’s views on economy worthless. It also doesn’t make Johnny Doesn’t Read Books opinion suddenly valid. What will determine which view is better is the amount of evidence each uses to support their claims.

Here’s an interesting discussion between Nye and Carlson where you can see the (appeal to confusion) method in action:

What I find most fascinating about these exchanges is the inherent dishonesty. It reminds me, as these things often do, of the anti-lgbt debates where the bar for evidence is also absurdly skewed. I’ve spent much of my life hearing (from religious extremists) that all of the scientific studies that demonstrate lgbt homes are stable environments for children (and so forth) are “manipulated”, the result of pressure etc. etc. Then they bring out the exception, either Regnerus or Cameron, and claim those are valid. So they dismiss 99.9% of science, and cling to the 0.1% which is demonstrably false, because it just so happens it’s in line with their religio-political ideology. Interesting.

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49 comments on “The Butchering of the Age of Reason – via TDB

  1. Clare Flourish
    March 4, 2017

    This is the climate change thing. Is human activity causing the rate of climate change to be much greater than geologic processes would cause? Yes. Absolutely. Definitely. What would the climate be like without human activity? Probably like it was in 1750. This is slightly less certain, but certain enough. How long would it have been to the next Ice age? Experts could give an answer accurate to an order of magnitude, and would have honest disagreement.

    Aha!!! WE CAN’T KNOW!!!!

    Carlson is not enquiring honestly.

    And- lots of us are. Let us stay true to one another. But given the ruthlessness, wealth and power of the liars, we may not be in power, and we may not trust the State.

    What do you think of M. Macron?

    Liked by 1 person

    • True, true and true.
      I’m hopeful about Macron. I think he has some good ideas. I think it’s a good sign that he partnered with Bayrou- and obviously it’s fantastic that he’s now passed Le Pen even in the first round.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Clare Flourish
        March 4, 2017

        The problem is, Nye’s antagonist said enough to keep his partisans happily ignorant.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        March 4, 2017

        This is the young[ish] politician? There’s been mention of him on Aussie TV but not very much. Mostly that he’s not hard right.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, he’s my age 😛

        Like

      • acflory
        March 4, 2017

        What little I’ve read is promising. Will you and Mike get to vote??

        Like

      • I can vote because I’m French, but not Mike 😀 He plans to become a citizen, but it’ll be another year and a half before that.

        Like

      • inspiredbythedivine1
        March 4, 2017

        Well, if he becomes French, tell him to stay away from the French toast. It causes gas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        March 5, 2017

        Damn, quel dommage. 😦 But at least you can have a say. Is voting compulsory in France? We have to vote here and I think it’s not such a bad thing – the swings are never tooooo extreme.

        Liked by 2 people

      • Here it’s optional. I agree that it should be compulsory. It would force people to know more about what’s going on.

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        March 6, 2017

        Here in Australia we used to complain about how apathetic most voters were, but at least on voting day, the most apathetic, middle of the road voters had to come out to play, and I believe that’s had a moderating effect on the more extreme influences.

        Liked by 3 people

      • Curious Mother
        March 8, 2017

        It’s a strange one – newish republics tend to see compulsory voting as an infringement of their rights – but I don’t think I’ve met an Australian who doesn’t think it’s a good idea. Honestly, we have to follow road rules and pay taxes and democracy doesn’t really *work* unless everyone votes. I still feel vaguely bilious every time I think about the fact that only half of eligible US citizens actually exercised any influence over this current power.
        Give me an Aussie democracy sausage any day!

        Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        March 9, 2017

        Yeah, it’s a strange one. For a very long time I just assumed that every democracy was like ours. I mean we bitch and moan about elections for federal, state and local government bodies, but as you say, at least we do get to exercise influence over our representatives.
        I’ll throw another snag on the barbie for you. 😀

        Liked by 1 person

  2. anisioluiz2008
    March 4, 2017

    Reblogged this on O LADO ESCURO DA LUA.

    Like

  3. Esme upon the Cloud
    March 4, 2017

    ‘The Butchering of the Age of Reason’ – The title alone stands as the real core of what’s going on at present. I’d say the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum, but I wouldn’t wish to slur said patients with the same brush as these dangerous, power-crazed fools. Interesting? – Yes. Frightening? – More-so.

    This isn’t quite right –

    “There are not two kinds of medicine. When a treatment has been shown to work, we call it “medicine.” When there is no evidence for it at all, we call it “alternative medicine.” As soon as there is substantive evidence that it works, it ceases to be “alternative medicine” and it is just plain “medicine.”

    The pharmaceutical companies don’t WANT any kind of treatment that works to jeopardize their profits – which is why the variety of muscle and joint treatments I have through a massuse, not only gives me more relief than any physio can, but has also been proven in studies to be just that – more effective in pain relief than physio for some conditions Massage is still deemed ‘alternative’ here. Homeopathy is bollocks (pardon my French), yes, it works as a placebo alone, and that’s not enough, and I’m not wandering about with a crystal strapped to my head either, but I guarantee there are many new drugs and therapies out there being shoved into the folder named ‘alternative medicine’ because their existence is not going to allowed by the big money makers in the drug industry. Not because they don’t work.

    – esme chucking her two penneth in upon the Cloud

    Liked by 1 person

    • Clare Flourish
      March 4, 2017

      I commented on the New York Times that the policies the Moneyed Elites are buying, and the lies they enforce on their dupes, are so likely to produce war and famine that I wonder if their solution to the world’s ills is population die-back, to bring the human population to more sustainable levels. That comment got 79 upvotes. It could really be that bad.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The extraordinary trick has been in the (re)assignment of the label “moneyed elites”. Instead of meaning what’s in the title, it’s become anyone who opposes the agenda of the moneyed elites.

        Like

      • Clare Flourish
        March 4, 2017

        Not here, I think. The “Liberal Metropolitan Elite” are the ones the Nationalists name as the “Enemies of the People”, the Globalists, the EU supporters. Nick Clegg named the moneyed elites- Kochs, Trumps, et al as an alternative enemy. OOOOHH! said the House of Commons.

        Liked by 1 person

      • In what category do London Hoodies fall in to? 😀

        Like

      • Clare Flourish
        March 4, 2017

        Well, I was amused when Mrs May called Remainers LME, when I am a rural benefit claimant.

        Like

  4. acflory
    March 4, 2017

    The erosion of reason began? became visible? when ‘intelligent design’ was discussed as if it were on the same factual, evidenced-based level as natural selection. Everything’s been going downhill since then. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s an age old battle. Standards as we know them today (regulation of work, food, medicine, building, the media) are mostly post war victories of reason. Ever since, the powers that be have been trying to undermine or destroy that progress all together. Exhausting.

      Liked by 1 person

      • acflory
        March 4, 2017

        Yeah. And depressing. This is more than ‘two steps forward, one step back’, this is like humanity turning its back on the one things that’s helped us survive this long.
        People have always ‘interpreted’ the facts, but to deny they even exist is…self-destructive. 😦

        Liked by 1 person

  5. tildeb
    March 4, 2017

    Next you’ll be telling us there is no such place as Gilligan’s Island… even though the evidence is plain to see right here at the end of this documentary film.

    Liked by 2 people

    • tildeb
      March 4, 2017

      In a follow up investigation led by a crack team of investigative journalists from Faux News, we learn that ‘and the rest’ were actually two people named ‘the Professor’ and ‘Maryann.’

      I think the Faux News team won a Peabody for this one. And the island at end is probably just from a different camera angle. but Gilligan’s Isle/Island is very, very real. No island is more real. It’s terrific island. And real.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Steve Ruis
    March 4, 2017

    The dishonesty is prominent in religious apologists who make no bones about their methods: they aren’t dishonest if they serve God. This approach in the US has become so prevalent that we have gotten to this point, an undermining of basic argumentation. We used to make jokes about how you can tell when a politicians was lying (when you can see their lips moving). Now we are living in that joke.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. dpmonahan
    March 4, 2017

    Actually the Enlightenment has been under attack since the Romantic movement of the 18th century.
    And you don’t talk about which Enlightenment, is it French and German rationalism or the Scotch-Anglo Enlightenment? The latter was rather pessimistic about attempts to rationalize society.
    The great material progress we see around us has a great deal to do with science applied to very narrow fields, and almost nothing to do with attempts to rationalize society itself. Oil companies, pharmaceutical companies, computer companies, and agro-businesses employing tens of thousands of engineers are responsible for lots of it, and they are not trying to better the world, just make a buck.
    I am not making an unqualified defense of capitalism or saying these corporations are somehow heroic or that their achievements are not without drawbacks, but they are the source of what we see, not mythical government experts arranging societies and economies according to the universal dictates of reason. As we speak world hunger is being solved, not by heroic Government Geniuses but by incredibly boring agro-businessmen and industrial-scale farmers who just want to sell soybeans to people who want to buy them.
    The Progressive dream is a society run by experts, except there is no such thing as an expert in running society, so what they really mean is a society run by themselves. They just want power. Screw them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • 1. Reason has been under attack from superstitious people since man is man. After all the advances of early philosophy came the Christians with no end of absurdities to muddy the waters- always in ways which maintained or increased the power of the(ir) hierarchy.

      2. There is such a thing as experts in practically every field. There are experts in climate, biology, human sexuality, economy and neuroscience, just to name a few. The language in your very comment is designed to deceive: “there is no such thing as an expert in running society”- actually, we can absolutely, choose verified and tested practices of what works and what doesn’t. We can identify which health system in the world has the highest success/survival rates for cancer treatments or organ transplants. We can identify which social policies best work to decrease violent crime, domestic violence or drunk driving. We can also, through evidence, identify which economic models are most conducive to general quality of life. The appeal to “we can’t know” is a tactic used by people who don’t like where the evidence is pointing.

      Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        March 4, 2017

        1. You are an expert in art history, not intellectual. There is a 5 0r 6 century gap between the Golden Age of Greek thought and the cultural ascendency of Christianity, and another 2 century gap between the it and the Roman Golden Age. Blaming the stagnation of the ancient world on Christians is just wrong.
        2. Yes, there are experts in many fields, but not all fields are of the same value. The level of certainty a mathematician is much higher than the level of certainty an economist can give you. The level of certainty of a sociologist is pretty low, the main problem with sociology is that its peer-reviewed studies are usually irrepeatable, which means their conclusions are worthless.
        I have seen studies comparing healthcare systems, they are not worthless, but they also make unspoken value judgements that are not universal, and they pay no attention to the underlying culture of the nation in question: France always wins because it is full of French people eating a French diet and living a French lifestyle. So the study has no real prescriptive value, it can’t tell you what to do for your circumstances, just what works OK for others that may or may not be analogous. But these things never occur to the “experts”, they just want to run the show and latch onto any available justification for it.

        Like

      • 1. My expertise in art history doesn’t diminish my knowledge in other fields. Especially general history as it’s related to my field. As explained in the original post what makes arguments more or less valid is the quality of the evidence provided with them, and the (mathematical) logic used to lay out the proposition.

        2. The Greeks were masters of knowledge. They moulded philosophy, they expanded mathematics, they invented the Antikythera mechanism (which required knowing the world was not flat, despite what Christians said for the millenia that followed). And after them there was Cicero, Seneca, Plutarch, Lucretius and Epicetus amongst others. The rise of Christianity didn’t just throw philosophy out the window, it threw out *Method*. Aristotelian logic is method. The ability to rule in or rule out evidence is a matter of method. When you make this sort of statement: “France always wins because it is full of French people eating a French diet and living a French lifestyle” you’re doing precisely what I said before which is attempting to deceive people- or you don’t understand how method works.
        France is a country of 65 million people with a whole range of lifestyles, diets and even climates. From Mediterranean to Alpine to highly urban. Meanwhile cancer treatment results are cancer treatment results. Early detection of tumours is early detection. So proper analysis has 100% value. The “lifestyle” deflection doesn’t work because French results don’t match its border country results where lifestyle and diet are generally similar. People make the same mistake when they relate nationality to terrorism risk or religion at birth to rape risk.

        3. The insertion of “sociology” into the discussion as if it’s some sort of bar is yet another attempt at deception. In fact sociology is actually irrelevant. I said experts are capable of identifying relevant factors in nearly every discipline. We do know drunk driving increases the chance of car accidents and death, and smoking increases the risk of heart disease and cancer (not just in France! Surprise, surprise!) That is math. Math means we can isolate variables and identify their value. You don’t like the math, and you’d like people to disregard the math because it makes your ideology seem baseless, that’s it. The reason you don’t like the evidence that shows the French health system works better than others is it undermines right wing dogma. The reason some want to deny the evidence regarding climate change is for the unique reason of not reducing pollution. And the reason fake studies are fabricated and then promoted by anti-gay groups is to bolster religious power and ideology.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        March 4, 2017

        2) Does not explain how the Christians are responsible for the cultural stagnation the Greek world suffered during the 6 centuries between Aristotle and their cultural ascendancy at the time of Constantine, but keep looking, I am sure you will find it.
        The Romans you mention were not systematic thinkers, they were rhetoricians and moralists. They did not build much on the Greeks of the Golden Age, in fact the first Roman who seems to have taken Aristotle’s logic seriously was Boethius, a Christian in Ostrogothic Italy. The idea that Christians generally held to a flat-earth concept is silly, the predominant model in Classical and Medieval world was the Ptolemaic model; the flat earth model was Semitic and didn’t simply translate to the Greco-Roman world.
        3. What is wrong with the following argument: Chicago and Houston are very similar cities in terms of income, demographics, population, and density, yet Houston is a safe city, while Chicago has a shamefully high murder rate. Chicago has some of America’s strictest gun control laws, while Houston has very lax gun laws. Therefore, if Chicago had lax gun laws, it would have a lower murder rate, and if Houston had Chicago’s strict gun laws, the murder rate would rise.

        Like

      • 2. Did you miss the part where Christianity became the law of the land and saying anything contrary to it became a crime in all of Christendom? The death of rationality was part of the impossibility to even discuss philosophical theories- heresy laws and all that wonderfulness. I don’t need to invent or look for anything because I know the timeline and *the history*. By the year 321 Christian prayer was a legal requirement for all soldiers. The death penalty was also exceedingly popular. It was only in 1822 that the Catholic church publicly accepted the Heliocentric model, after all.

        3. The problem is your premise and your conclusion are equally simplistic. A proper, rigorous and responsible study will take into account the many variables to identify what is incidental, what is co-incidental and what is causal. Yes, we’re capable of identifying each of those factors! In your example we’d have to weight city gun laws against state weapons laws, pre-existing gun ownership rates, illegal gun ownership statistics and so forth. Oh, look, we can actually factor possibilities into the equation! The same way we can compare the French and Spanish health systems, neighbouring developed countries on the Mediterranean and identify what works better in one or the other. Or how Greece’s tax collection system doesn’t work as well as Germany’s or France’s. Your appeal to confusion is, yet again, designed to imply we can’t know things. Yes, we can know things if we test them and measure the results adequately.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        March 4, 2017

        2. Yes, I did miss that part. Intellectual inquiry was pretty crumby in 322 but what little there was did not cease.
        3. Actually, the problem with Chicago is that it is full of Chicagoans. Adding or subtracting gun laws would change nothing. Do you think the fact that every Illinois governor finishes his term in jail is a technocratic problem or a cultural one?

        Like

      • 2. So you see no difference in academic pursuits in the Islamic, Chinese and European Christian cultures from the year 300 to the 15th century? Seriously?

        3. There you go again. You proposed gun laws as an issue and you’re dismissing the proposition (as phrased *by you*). I said the problem was more complex than gun laws within city limits.

        Liked by 1 person

      • P.S. if you want to understand the post Aristotelian period, just look up the Hellenistic period. After the death of Alexander the territories were broken up and many wars and the Roman conquest followed. And then Roman empire morphs into Christianity. It’s a straightforward progression.

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        March 4, 2017

        And you accuse me of being simplistic! Rather, periods of brilliance were few and far between in the ancient world, brief Golden Ages followed by centuries of “meh”. Same probably goes for us but we don’t have the perspective to see it.
        Skipping straight from the rise of Alexander to the Enlightenment leaves out some good stuff: the Medieval Warm Period was a brief time of cultural flourishing too.

        Like

      • Centuries of meh is one thing. The outlawing of dissent and anything that could possibly contradict religious dogma is another.
        Why do you think mass was in latin until the 20th century? So potato pickers could understand it?

        Like

      • dpmonahan
        March 5, 2017

        There was plenty of thought and debate going on. Levels of scholarship dropped somewhat because of the political and economic chaos of collapsing empire and marauding Goths, say 600-1000 AD. But you are choosing to ignore plenty of cultural foment as well, even during the dark ages.
        The Mass was in Latin because formal, official acts were preformed in formal, official language, not the unwritten patois of the villagers. It is still like that in parts of Europe: Italian or German are used for official acts, Neapolitan or Bavarian at home.
        This is descending to the level of apologetics, it is annoying.

        Like

      • 1. You cannot be serious. You’re the one descending into the utterly absurd. All of the historical evidence points to the opposite of what you’re trying to imply. It’s not even a discussion from a historical perspective. The anti-education position of the church (for the masses) is settled history. It’s established beyond doubt. The Church went so far as to oppose the translation of the bible and to control and censor publishing as a whole. Ever heard of the Index Librorum Prohibitorum?

        2. Unwritten patois of villagers? Don’t be ridiculous. Mass was not in mainstream national languages- like French, German or Italian. That was to do with control. The invention of confession in the late middle ages was to do with control. The many edicts of many Popes were to do with control.

        Liked by 1 person

      • dpmonahan
        March 5, 2017

        You lack historical imagination.
        I generally try to avoid apologetics, so ciao.

        Like

      • A historian’s job is to verify facts and events. Imagination isn’t the priority. Although if you like I can cite myriad of sources which illustrate the church’s history in opposing and suppressing access to education- from its inception to right now, in our times. That’s not “apologetics”, it’s verifiable history. And history which isn’t even denied by the Vatican.

        In a wonderfully timely way, Candida Moss published an article which touched on religious attitudes to education this morning. Enjoy: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2017/03/05/when-teachers-can-t-be-trusted.html

        Like

    • clubschadenfreude
      March 5, 2017

      hmm, seems that many people claim to know how to run a society, and indeed they just want power. Long before any enlightenment, people were doing this and still are, claiming that they are experts and some god told them how to run things.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Sirius Bizinus
    March 4, 2017

    I don’t think the method is solely the illogical progression. Rather, it’s fraud. For example, people also distrust economists after the Great Recession because every news agency found one willing to say something different to support whatever narrative they were spinning. People who can’t tell the difference between what’s actual scholarship and what’s snake oil might just end up not listening to the entire field of study.

    Those who want to benefit from ignorance are intentionally poisoning the well with regards to human knowledge. Regardless of the issue, it seems to be in vogue to employ lies and improper reasoning to make it impossible for people who can’t easily know better to throw up their hands and give up trying. Worse, human nature kicks in afterwards and makes it difficult to get them to trust authentic sources.

    Liked by 1 person

    • AB-SO-LUTELY!
      The cycle is terrible. From simulation confusion to tribalism is one thing, but then pride kicks in as well- so anything that questions the world view becomes (is felt as) a personal attack.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. inspiredbythedivine1
    March 4, 2017

    Fantastic article and post.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. john zande
    March 5, 2017

    It is astonishing to be staring at a possible world where reason and thinking is jettisoned.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Dwight Doskey
    March 6, 2017

    You’re French? I never knew. Well Nancy and I will be there both during the general election and any run-off (of course there will be one). While I am sure that I oppose Marine, I don’t know whether I would vote for Macron or Fillon were I eligible. At this point, Macron, simply because Fillon will never make the runoff, and I want to make sure there is one.

    Liked by 1 person

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