Links and Comments: Memory, Math, Church and State, Faith, Facts, Stories

New York Times: Why Our Memory Fails Us

A fascinating NYT op-ed about the fallibility of memory, led by a notorious example from Neil DeGrasse Tyson.


Math Anxiety: Why Hollywood Makes Robots of Alan Turing and Other Geniuses

How Hollywood films – including the current Alan Turing biopic THE IMITATION GAME [which I haven’t yet seen], and earlier films GOOD WILL HUNTING and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, depict math geniuses. It’s almost a genre.

There is a shot of a genius staring rapturously at mind-bending numbers. He is an insufferable person. There will be much drama about whether he can learn to value human emotion over cold fact.

As with every other Hollywood genre, these conventions are shortcuts to audience identifiability; they are not necessarily realistic portrayals of actual math geniuses.

For what it’s worth, I was a math major. BA, UCLA.


I haven’t made fun of the right-wing theocrats and demagogues lately, so let’s catch up.

Paul Fidalgo’s take (here) on the latest from Rick Santorum is better than mine would have been.

Rick Santorum, who still exists, declares, unoriginally, that the concept of church-state separation is a Communist fabrication. So which church should not be separated from the state? I’m going to guess Rick’s.


Here is Daylight Atheism’s invitation to Meet the American Religious Right Figures Thrilled by Russia’s Brutal Anti-Gay Laws.

These include Linda Harvey, Peter LaBarbera, Scott Lively, and Bryan Fischer.


Salon reviews/profiles a book of hate mail from Christians to the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF). (Christian love!) The book is called To the Far Right Christian Hater … You Can Be a Good Speller or a Hater, But You Can’t Be Both: Official Hate Mail, Threats, and Criticism From the Archives of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. A book demonstrating how so many

Self-professed Christians deny the fundamental humanity of other people they don’t even know.

The reviewer says the book

offers an unflinching examination of a subset of American fundamentalism, created by a segment of our society that is whiter, more conservative and a lot angrier than the rest of America.  For some people the future of their faith and of the nation are in danger, threatened by secular forces controlled by Satan himself.  This existential threat to Christian supremacy justifies the most offensive, vulgar and cruel letters I’ve ever read.  Think I’m overstating it?  Read the book.


Adam Lee cites a tweet by Joel Osteen, Choose Faith in Spite of the Facts, pointing out how the advice is a tacit admission that facts conflict with what he wants people to have faith in. Hmm.


Right Wing Watch offers yet another Devastating Review Of David Barton’s Pseudo-History

This repeated discrediting of David Barton’s pseudo-history hasn’t seemed to diminished his influence or reputation, among those who need only to believe in his stories, never mind the facts. (Stories are more important than facts! I think this is becoming an overarching theme.)


Speaking of facts, faith, and David Barton, Salon has this article, Thomas Jefferson vs. the Bible: What America’s founding father really thought about religion, describing how Jefferson famously took scissors to the Bible, keeping the portions he thought worth saving and discarding all the “dross”. (The results are online.)

To Jefferson’s mind, Jesus was a wise and beneficent moral teacher. The dross was the fabric of mythic stories that made him into a magical being, stories like the virgin birth, miracle healings, and the resurrection. He  also loathed what he saw as superstition buried in Christian teachings about sin and salvation—the idea that we all are born into sin because of Adam and Eve, for example, or that a special few, the “elect” are chosen for an eternity in Heaven.


Salon has this article: Evolution of a messiah: The story behind Christianity’s founding trauma (an excerpt from a book, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins, by David M. Carr)

Nothing would surprise me less than to learn that the origin of the gospels, documents written about the life and death of Jesus, based on hearsay decades after the fact, were in fact politically motivated to express the fulfillment of prophecies made in even earlier holy documents — again, written decades or hundreds of years before.

It strikes me as ironic that fundamentalists, who take this conflicting accounts at face value, nevertheless are suspicious of most news media (except, perhaps Faux News), on the basis of some kind of bias. Pretty ironic indeed.


And again Salon: Why are these clowns winning? Secrets of the right-wing brain

A fascinating discussion of the cognitive biases that afflict both Republicans – who can’t run the country (cf George W. Bush) -– and Democrats – who can’t win elections (cf the recent 2014 elections).

As I’ve written before, a growing body of literature reveals that liberals and conservatives think differently from one another in ways that can even be traced back, in part, to the level of instinctual response, reflecting conservatives’ heightened sensitivity to threat bias.

And discussing Chris Mooney:

Mooney argued that liberals, still fundamentally inspired by the Enlightenment promise of ever-growing knowledge about the world, are fundamentally mistaken about the nature of human reason, which they see as knowledge- and truth-seeking. But modern cognitive science teaches us that our brains are much more fundamentally shaped by the need to make persuasive arguments, which only require the appearance of rational argument.

Modern cognitive science is all about the biases that afflict everyone, eg as David McRaney has explored.

There’s much more in this article including Karen Armstrong’s idea of contrasting mythos and logos; and the idea that the fundamentalist’s insistence that mythos is literally true defeats the traditional purpose of mythos.


And then there’s the Christian pastor in Arizona who’s announced his solution to AIDS — just execute all the gays, just like the Bible instructs. Curiously, though his remarks have been widely reported and followed up, none of the follow up articles seem to be from fellow Christians denouncing him.


Finally, the Internet in the past few days has made much fun of this woman, whose YouTube video ridicules the Chicago Field Museum of Natural History’s evolution exhibit.

Creationist Mother “Debunks” Evolution Exhibit at Chicago’s Field Museum.

I can only feel sorry for her [home-schooled, of course] children.

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