Links and Comments: Living in the Real World

Salon: College students were asked simple questions about politics and history and their answers are a dramatic wake up call about the state of our education system. (The same video has been posted elsewhere.)

Street interviews with college students asked questions like “Who won the Civil War?” and responding with complete cluelessness.

An indictment of the educational system? Perhaps. There’s nothing much like a core curriculum of things (like history, like basic science, like critical thinking) that all students are expected to take, these days. That is perhaps unfortunate. At the same time, it illustrates that many people can live a functional life without knowing much about anything — about history, about the world outside their immediate environment, and so on.


On a similar theme, a week or so ago there were many posts about a rapper who was aggressive in his belief in a flat earth, in tweets that were responded to by Neil deGrasse Tyson, that illustrates a similar principle: not only that people can live fulfilling lives being blissfully unaware of the reality outside their own local circumstances, but that many people cannot imagine how anything can exist that is different from their own local environment. If the Earth seems flat (more or less) in one’s immediate neighborhood, why shouldn’t it be so forever in every direction?

Similar logic applies to creationists, who can’t imagine why a universe would exist that’s any older than the myths in their holy books suggest.

There’s also elements of conspiracy theories (see that rapper rail against the scientific establishment) and anti-intellectualism, resentment of expertise and authority (a proud American tradition).

Vox: B.o.B. and Neil deGrasse Tyson’s fight over Flat Earthism, explained

At the same time, there’s a legitimate issue here: how do we know, outside are personal everyday experience, what is so?

Atlantic: In Defense of Flat Earthers: Rapper B.o.B’s theory may be ridiculous, but he’s motivated by the same questing spirit that gave us science.

In this case, however, there are easy ways to understand that the earth is not flat, as has been understood for millennia (far before Columbus).

PBS: 7 DIY experiments you and rapper B.o.B can do to prove Earth is round

I’m fascinated by the idea of watching a sunset lying down on the beach, then standing up the moment you think the sun has disappeared — and see it appear again, momentarily. If I ever have the chance, I will try it.

Finally, here is Lawrence Krauss at Slate: How a Celebrity’s Silly Belief in Flat Earth Can Be Useful

While the claim of a flat earth is at least four centuries behind the times, simply dismissing a claim by a celebrity as nonsense is not that useful. For behind the silliness lies a distrust both of science and government. B.o.B apparently believes NASA is a tool of the Defense Department, designed to distract us all from the truth.

He mentions my favorite ordinary-world experience that flat earthers can’t explain: Time Zones. Also: GPS. Unless everything, one’s entire reality, is a government conspiracy to hide the ‘truth’.

Bottom line:

It is sometimes worth sitting down and asking why we believe even the most fundamental things that science has told us about nature. Because we should all be skeptical, and we should remember that in science there is no such thing as authority. Every “fact” we assert has to have some sound, and testable, empirical reasoning behind it. Nothing should be accepted on faith.


Slate: Marco Rubio’s Spinelessness: The Florida senator attacks Obama for a perfectly normal speech about Muslims

William Saletan files this under Obama Derangement Syndrome; there was also a Bush Derangement Syndrome. I’d file it under political tribalism: to some, everything Obama says or does (he could cure cancer…) must be repudiated, because he’s on the other side.


More about politics v. reality:

Salon: Make them talk about evolution: Why won’t a single Republican presidential candidate admit that Darwin’s right. They don’t believe in science, and pander to evangelicals — as a result, the Republicans remain a party of stupid.

As above, there will always be people who won’t believe anything that’s not simple and immediately apparent before their eyes – who cannot be persuaded by indirect evidence and chains of reasoning – and who prefer self-enhancing mythologies. There will always be such people, and in American politics, these people align themselves with conservatives and the Republican party (which includes people who are ‘conservative’ on other grounds).

This will always be true; it is a perennial issue. Some people are this way because their mode of reasoning *works*, in some deeply biological, evolutionary sense, as a way to perpetuate the species (otherwise we might not be here). What’s different about recent centuries, compared to the previous history of the human race, is how those people who can think around this tendency, to apprehend reality and exploit it, i.e. via science and technology, have generated immeasurable results in the betterment of the human condition, and in humanity’s understanding of the actual universe around us.


Another example:

Salon: Amanda Marcotte: Ted Cruz’s radical supporters: He won Iowa on the back of the scariest Bible-thumpers in the business: Cruz came on top in the Iowa caucus by presenting himself as a messiah and winning over the radical religious right.

Cruz is currently the best Republican appealing to the base: those most inclined to believe self-enhancing myths about their superiority and are willing to rewrite history to bolster that sense. With an example about the notorious David Barton:

Cruz also enjoys the support of David Barton, a powerful crank who rose in the ranks of the religious right by feeding the masses totally false but pleasing stories about American history, designed to create the illusion that our country was basically formed as a theocracy. Barton’s willingness to lie and deceive on behalf of this claim is truly breath-taking, as the SPLC demonstrates:

Another Barton whopper is his repeated claim that John Adams supported religious control of the U.S. government. To make that point, Barton quoted the following Adams passage: “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it — all without it is rebellion and perdition or, in more orthodox words, damnation.” But Barton conveniently omits the next part of the quote, in which Adams makes it crystal clear he is mocking those with this belief.

You can fool some of the people all of the time.

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