Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Fallacy of Intelligent Design in Conspiracy Theories

It appears that good-to-do people are spreading misinformation via the accessibility of the internet, perpetuated by paranoid conspiracy theorists and others supposedly out in search of ‘the truth’, albeit one that confirms their beliefs in the best way possible.

I imagine that some of these people must have a chip in their shoulder, and feel that they are getting less than they deserve.  Such a belief might make it easier to spot corresponding theories, such as the idea that some ‘higher power’ (your parents, the police, the government, God) is pulling all the strings, and swinging things constantly out of your favour.  And when confirming your biases feels so good, all this information seems to come together to form some kind of clear image, like faces in rocks.

Just as it is easy to see intention and purpose where there is none, as in the case of intelligent design, the same mistakes in thinking may also be the basis for believing in conspiracy theories.  Instead of seeing a hand as something we simply use to pick up objects, purpose is wrongly attributed to it, and so we say (and think) that the purpose of hands is to pick up objects.  The difference may seem small, and some may see no difference at all, but it is a significant one. 

A system that results in discrimination against specific groups is very different from one that was actively designed to discriminate.  This is even more apparent when you consider that systems and organisations are inherently composed of individual parts and individuals, who are logically supposed to achieve the same ends.  A conspiracy on such a scale requires you to see an organisation as a well-defined whole, whose intended ends are malevolent.  If instead, you break a system down into its many parts, upon inspecting each individually it becomes increasingly difficult to find the intention.  The group or at least the majority of the group, must work collectively for the same purpose in order for there to be any tangible unified goal.  A few individuals out of hundreds or even thousands, who ‘conspire’ among themselves cannot be said to affect the overall purpose of the group, even though they may have considerable impact on the measurable outcomes of their collective.

In order to see a conspiracy it becomes necessary for you to view things in black and white, and to ignore or leave out any negative cases when looking for and summing up your ‘evidence’.  Instead of seeing honest people for example, as evidence that there is no conspiracy, they will be counted as rare exceptions, regardless of how many instances are found.

Scepticism is seen as belief system, like Christianity for example, whereby upon announcing your scepticism you have also unknowingly chosen a team, donned their colours, and separated yourself from the ‘opposition’. 

Being a sceptic is different from being a religious follower in that religion is mostly a system of beliefs, whereas scepticism is more the act of suspending belief.  In order to be a true sceptic you must have good reason for your disbelief, otherwise you are most likely just being contrary, and are in no better a position than someone who blindly believes.  Although there may be potential benefits to automatic contraryism, over the tendency to believe almost anything if it’s presented in a professional-style video, complete with well-chosen soundtrack and end credits.

Scepticism threatens to take the fun out of life and the mysteries people hold dear, by actually challenging those ideas, instead of worshipping them and rejoicing in the unknown.

Inevitability's Child

I don't believe in destiny or fate in the sense of there being a 'natural order' or things happening 'as they were meant to' due to some higher power for example.

What I do believe however, is that in theory everything could be predicted given sufficient prior information.  But the difficulty or possibility of obtaining this information would seem to be the primary obstacle to us performing these calculations, and as such there may be a significant amount of things we will never be in a position to predict. 

For example, the probability of tossing a coin and it landing on 'heads' is not really 50%, because if you design and build a coin-tossing machine you can have it land on the same side indefinitely, which is way beyond what you would expect when you just think of the coin as having 2 possible sides to land on – Probability is not a property of things.

Similarly, I'm not sure that 'randomness' really exists, and that events only seem unpredictable on the surface.  In my naive opinion randomness seems directly tied to lack of knowledge, therefore the more you know, the less random life should appear, and consequently you would be presented with a different kind of ‘fate’ in the form of inevitability perhaps.

Someone with a greater knowledge of mathematics and statistics could possibly point out the flaws in this idea for me though.

In terms of the evolution of thought, I imagine that if you work backwards, first to a time before modern science, the prevailing beliefs would have been largely superstitious, where people attributed the weather and other events to the gods and so forth.  Things would have seemed much more random and unpredictable to the average individual, and even to the most knowledgeable at the time.

Advancing even further back and it’s unlikely that the thought of gods, higher powers or any ‘powers’ at all crossed anyone’s mind.  The thought of being subject to a bunch of mysterious forces was just too advanced to occur anywhere.

Awareness of predictability is one of the things which have allowed man to manipulate the world around him in an increasing number of ways.  Discovery and observation of the existence of physical laws, and the ability to connect cause with effect has shaped human progress as we know it.  From the creation of basic tools to the discovery of medicines and knowledge of human anatomy, it all seems to be an awakening from the apparent randomness we were once surrounded by. 

So if you imagine a future that continues much in the same way, there would be things which at present we believe to be random that would be unveiled as being predictable at some point.  This is clearly true for scientific discovery, but also for discoveries on a personal level.  This may be one reason why knowing more can actually complicate things for people.  It’s not that knowledge of the facts has suddenly changed what the facts are, but that the knowledge has destroyed the mystery; the notion of things being random and the idea that you have no control, or that you do have control. 

Knowledge endows you with the burden of responsibility.  Once you no longer believe that smoking is healthy for example, you cannot hide in your own ignorance.  What you can do however, is formulate a nice-sounding story about why you will continue with the destructive act. 

Realisation that certain physical laws exist is what separates those who attempt to improve by blind experimentation, and those who heed these rules and use them to their advantage. 

If we weren’t to build upon the knowledge of others, or to make use of the information granted to us by science we would be living in a completely different world, where we may be reduced to animals once again.

Manipulation of the world around you through utilisation of the rules is not cheating, but may be seen as ‘unnatural’ if you suppose that advancement through technology goes against some unwritten code of conduct, or that there are limits as to how much we should use such knowledge to our advantage. There appears to be some kind of conflict that occurs inside the average human, a dilemma in which he cannot decide where to draw the line between what he believes to be his ‘natural’ (and therefore optimal and pure) self, and the many improvements he can make through modern technologies. 

Transhumanism appears to be the epitome of embracing human advancement to its fullest extent, and would seem to require individuals to give up certain beliefs that would otherwise prevent them from benefitting from such technology.

It’s almost as if a desire to remain the same is considered part of what it is to be human in the eyes of anti-technologists and the quietly superstitious.

Leaving things to ‘chance’ may seem like you have simply left room for infinite possibility, because ignorance can feel like a blank canvas, when in fact it is more akin to being blind in a picture gallery.  It doesn’t matter what you draw on your map, or if you choose to draw nothing at all; certain things are irremovably part of the landscape.  You can trade the opportunity to discover facts beforehand for a surprising outcome here or there, but you sacrifice efficiency along with your own powers as an intelligent being, and even perhaps that title itself.  This is very apparent when it comes down to health or physical well-being and the choices we make.  But even human irrationality itself is predictable.

I believe that some people deny or outright reject the predictability of things, in part because on the surface it undermines their ideas of free will and purpose in life.  As if knowing certain results beforehand, or just expecting-with-good-reason makes action redundant and takes away personal power, when in fact power is derived from these very things.