logic and belief

Slate published an article “Why Truthers, Birthers, Trig Truthers, etc. embrace lies even when presented with definitive truth: http://slate.me/f7PaS5 I wanted the article to answer the question, but instead it just demonstrated that the premise was true. When people strongly believe something, they refuse to believe evidence to the contrary. In fact, they treat that evidence as falsified and manipulated.

This whole topic troubles me. I want to believe that the truth will set us free. (Yeah, it’s a cliché) I think if I could just give that critical piece of information, people will see my side of things. I believe this even though I defensive and refuse to listen when someone tries to use facts to tell me my beliefs are wrong. (There’s some irony in there somewhere, but don’t point it out to me. I won’t listen.)

It makes me think about a book I recently read “The relationship theory of love.” (Thanks Katja for loaning it to me) It basically says that the part of our brain that deal with emotions is separate from the part that deals with facts. We basically have three brains all stick together in our heads. One that deals with basic stuff: breathing, heart-beats, etc. One that deals with emotions and attachment and one that deals with logic and facts.

Today during lunch, I read about what other folks on the web said about belief. (Whoo Hoo I get to retype my shortened Bit.ly URL and see if it works for blogs too. Sorry if you also read my twitter feed. I’ll try to be less redundant in the future. http://bit.ly/i6INEp ) As I read, I became convinced. Belief falls squarely into the part of our brain that deals with emotions. It deals with things we feel are true rather than concrete evidence. Religion asks us to take a leap of faith. Morality seems more like it is patterned on our experiences than a list of facts someone put down on paper. Otherwise we could solve all issues with enough data instead of endlessly having debates about what is right and what is wrong. (Yeah yeah I know lots of people believe in the basic things like not killing people, but I’m talking about littler things like how to dress)

The problem with this is that when we talk about fact versus emotions, nothing ever wins. (I’d give an example of fighting bananas with grass, but that is probably meaningless to anyone else.) I think the reason this whole thing bothers me so much is that it seems like our politics have devolved into this kind of discussion. We come up with catchy phrases to evoke emotions and discredit facts. Where is this going to lead us? Am I a fool for my steadfast belief in proof through experimentation? I don’t know how to turn that into an argument that “feels” right.

There are more facts than any one person can comprehend in a lifetime and still we work to discover more. I feel like we fight back by holding onto the one thing we know for sure, ourselves and our beliefs. I’ve seen people use techno-babble to sound intelligent. In the face of that, is it any wonder that we have people rejecting science in favor of beliefs? Can we bring science back down to non-PhDs? Do they even want to understand it?

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Today, I finally told my boss that I am leaving.

Changing careers midstream is tough.  There are moments when I feel like I am jumping off a cliff and moments when I think I am doing something amazing. I never really appreciated how I felt about all of this until I told my manager.

Some part of me feels like I am letting people down, but the only person I am letting down is myself. I have defined myself for ten years in part by my job. Now I am losing that and reaching for something else. Happiness? A sense of satisfaction?

When I started graduate school, I was one of those women. I thought I could be everything. Turns out I can’t. It’s been over a year since my son was born, there are days I still miss him. I miss seeing him first thing in the morning and I feel like there is never enough time in the day. By the time I get home, I am tired. We make dinner and he goes to bed. The next day I leave before he wakes up.

There are things I love about a technology job. It is a dynamic environment with a constant stream of logic puzzles to solve. I am surrounded by brilliant amazing people who seem like they could learn anything. There were things that frustrated me, but you get that in any job. There were also things that made me feel more alive and engaged.

I’m afraid I’ll miss it, but not as much as I miss my son.

I’m not leaving to be a stay at home mom although I think that is also a valuable job. I’m choosing to do something else. When my son grows up and tries to figure out what to do with his life. I want to be able to tell him to do what he loves? How can I tell him to do that if I’m not willing to do the same?

In three months, I will leave my job where I have been successful for the past ten years.  I will go back to school just after celebrating my fortieth birthday. I will chase a dream, being a teacher, something I think I will love that will also give me more time for my child. Given the state of the economy, I don’t know if there will be a job at the end. I just know one thing. If I don’t try now, I never will.

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The Adoration of Jenna Fox – book review

From the very first page of this book I was hooked. Perhaps it was the mystery of what happened to Jenna that made her lose her memories or trying to puzzle through with her why she doesn’t feel emotionally connected to them. Either way, this was a book I could not put down. The characters were believable and the situation was interesting. I empathized with the main character’s desire to have friends and understand her place in the world.

I think this book would be good as part of a multidisciplinary science curriculum. (Please bear in mind that I have not started school yet to become a teacher so take this with a grain of salt.) It would be good to facilitate a discussion about bioethics and the impact of technology. The back cover says “How far would you go to save someone you love?” This is part of the real heart of the bioethics debate. Scientists rationally sitting in their lab creating technological breakthroughs are a long way from a mother who wants to save a child or someone who wants to save their own life. Until one is in that kind of situation, it is hard to say what one will do.

The parts of our brain that process logic and thought are not the parts of our brain that deal with emotions. Some emotions are too powerful to deal with rationally. We think we have created a way to deal with the questions that come up by legislating boundaries, but those limitations are weak compared to the love of a parent for a child.

This is the power of literature. It allows us to explore this space and these ideas without having to actually go through the experience. We can have the discussion as a group and really get to the heart of the matter using a novel as a common framework.

Days after reading this book I am still pondering two questions. What would I do to save my son? How would I feel if my parents went to extreme lengths to save me? I am left thinking about what it means to be human. What are the limits of good and bad science?

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