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    • No sooner did I post this when Elon Musk and Space X launched a rocket over LA that many thought was alien. If we don't understand something it's sad that so many people automatically assume it must be aliens or God who is responsible for it.

    • Aliens have always fascinated me. It's probably not a conspiracy theory at this point to assume there is other life in the universe, but what really fascinates me is the idea of intelligent life visiting Earth. There was a recent New York Times article, reported by Pulitzer Prize winning journalists that chronicled the experiences of military airmen and a secret government program to investigate these incidents... in the 2000s! The video was incredible.

      Heres the video (can't get past the NYT paywall to find the original article): http://www.cnn.com/2017/12/19/us/pilot-david-fravor-ufo-jim-sciutto-outfront-cnntv/index.html

      I have another close friend who's experienced a sighting with eerily similar characteristics. And he told me about this years ago. I'm not sure if it's aliens, but it sure seems like there's something out there beyond the public understanding of what's possible.

    • So far as we know there are around 1000 billion galaxies, each with an average of 100 billion stars and an average of 20% of stars like our sun have habitable zone planets like earth. This combined would make us reasonably conclude it's very possible, even likely, that aliens or intelligent life is out there somewhere in the unverse. That being said there is no credible scientific evidence for aliens having ever having visited earth. Anecdotal stories are not credible scientific evidence because people make mistakes and/or lie. People who think they've been abducted experience a fairly common psychological phenomenon called hypnagogia. Roswell is pretty ridiculous and despite the government spending money to investigate alien claims, that in no way provides evidence that they've found any conclusive evidence of aliens. Governments fund all kinds of crazy pseudoscientific nonsense like paranormal claims and such. You've probably heard of Uri Geller and other fraud scam artists that even tricked scientists into thinking he had psychic powers. Ancient aliens claims have been thoroughly discredited. Crop circles have been debunked and finally we must remind ourselves that it's up to the claimant (those saying aliens have visited earth) to provide the evidence for aliens existence. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Someone seeing something they can't explain isn't extraordinary though it'd be cool if someone actually could come forward with some proof of aliens existence. It's worth noting as well that the scientific experts who study astronomy and the like are in strong agreement that there is no evidence that aliens have ever visited earth.

    • So, just signed up for cake. The first conversation I wanted to jump into was on "Conspiracies". I have so many arching thoughts on this topic, so where to begin?

      I think maybe with this.

      We don't really "know", as in can-prove, most of the things we think we know. For example, You, cvdavis, said that, "We know there are around 1000 billion galaxies..."

      But, do we? How do we really know that? Because, mostly NASA says it's true? There is so little that each of us can actually prove to be true without trusting the word of some megalithic, governmental agency with massively compromised funding sources taking lead on saying it's all true.

      I started off down this rabbit hole with Big Foots and the Loch Ness Monster, and graduated to JFK multiple shooter theories and found myself realizing that it's almost impossible that we ever could have broken through the Van Allen radiation belt in the 60's when NASA says we can't even do it today, (So how did we get to the moon???) and realized that the same people I already don't trust to tell me we went to the moon are in league with the same people who said that 911 was an organic plot organized by some folks who vacation with the Bush Family, and suddenly it all comes full circle when the Aha! moment snaps me to the reality that all of this, all major conspiracy theories, are bound by the same threads, and it's not the the Rockefellers or the Rosicrucians or the Bilderbergs.

      Its way bigger than that.

    • Hmmm, your response is quite typical of someone who has fallen down the conspiracy rabbit hole me thinks. First off, normally the conversation ends when a conspiracy theory supporter says that no truths can be established and makes adhoc answers to any questions a scientific skeptical thinker poses to them. You however took a more philosophical approach so I don't feel I'm wasting my time trying to help you get off the conspiracy theory endless loop.

      Here's an article of some more recent findings about why people turn to conspiracy theories:

      https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/conspiracy-thinking-and-the-need-for-certainty/

      First off I would say that it's up to the claimant to prove the claim. In other words if someone says for example "Bigfoot exists", then it's up to that claimant to provide some scientifically verifiable evidence of it's existence. The evidence can't be anecdotal, based on some 'authority' figure, or an individual's experience. People can lie or be fooled by their own brains. The many ways in which our brains experience or 'see' the world have been well established to have many problems and it's accepted that we shouldn't always believe what we see with our own eyes. Many peoople who accept conspiracy theories use the multiple out. It's essentially an endless list of excuses to explain away any evidence that the skeptic presents to falsify their claim.

      The second thing I will say is that saying some government or company has a reason to cheat or lie to people to save or make money is absolutely no evidence to support a claim. While it may be a reason for companies, governments or people to do things it's not evidence and therefore shouldn't be treated as such. The conspiracy that cancer has been cured but is covered up by companies blah blah blah is the worst kind of support for a claim. It simply takes you back to rule 1 that it's up to the claimant to prove the claim.

      A claim must be falsifiable. In other words there must be a way or at least a way to imagine proving the claim wrong if it in fact is wrong. Is there some evidence that you could imagine proving Nasa actually did go to the moon? If you can't think of any evidence and can always come up with a reason for that said evidence then your claim is not falsifiable, not scientifically valid and likely wrong.

      Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Not only is it not up to us to prove every conspiracy claim wrong but those making the claims that for example Nasa didn't go to the moon must have some seriously strong evidence for showing Nasa didn't go to the moon. In fact NASA did go to the moon - just saying.

      I could go on but it's late and must get some sleep. Have a look at the link I put up earlier. Better yet buy Steven Novella's newly released book on critical thinking and skepticism. It was just released October 2nd and is called The Skeptics Guide to the Universe: How to Know What's Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake.

    • Oh good, a quick reply. Based on the last reply being in 2017 I wasn't sure if/when a reply was coming. So thanks! :)

      I wouldn't say that I'm typical of people who have fallen down the rabbit hole because I haven't fallen. I have been walking down it for many years because this is of interest to me. It's a choice not a mistake.

      I also tend towards great skepticism of most theories, including ones like, "NASA went to the moon!" My default is that I need to see/hear things that prove theories to me. Since most things can not be proved, the baseline for what I consider proof is therefore up to me.

      The same is true for everyone, even though most people do not accept that this is true. If Neil DeGrasse Tyson says that something is a fact, 98% of the planet immediately uses this as proof, even though this is not actually proof of anything other than that he either thinks its true or has some bias towards wanting to believe it is true or he's lying for some reason. Most people accept the words of a scientist or doctor as always being factually true even though time and again the end up being humans with all the same flaws and biases that we all have.

      They have mortgages and are funded by corporations with a board and a reason/motivation to skew all findings in a certain direction and frequently do just that. This isn't a theory. It's common practice, and anyone that thinks otherwise is simply being naive. There are countless volumes written about corporate greed funding studies and picking and choosing what they like out of that study to back up what is clearly a flawed or even dangerous decision. Read "Evidence of Harm" for a great read on Big Pharma's willingness to poison people, even children, to make a few billion bucks.

      So, yes, of course, it's up to the claimant to prove what they say is true.

      But that's also the problem. What is the baseline for what you will accept as proof? Most of what we accept as proof is in reality just our willingness to believe what we are told. We accept the veracity of someone or we don't. But that's certainly not a very scientific method of proving something. The fact is, we do not have the time or means to actually prove for ourselves that most of what we believe is actually true, so we settle for choosing who we will trust/believe.

      That's how it goes brother.

    • 1) First I'll say that for all scientific claims there IS proof. If there isn't any proof then it's either unfalsifiable (like the existence of God), something that isn't mainstream science or engineering, it's 'fringe' science or pseudoscience. Scientific theories have lots of evidence or proof to back up their claims. It's also important to understand the difference between hypothesis and theory. Evolution is a theory much like the theory that the Earth is a sphere (or more accurately oblate spheroid), and therefore has so much evidence to back it up to be virtually irrefutable. That's not to say that parts of the theory can't be or aren't regularly updated but you simply won't find natural selection being displaced in the foreseeable future.

      2) An important point to make if you want to build on your critical thinking skills is to NOT start with the presumption of looking for proof to back your viewpoint or some claim. The question to ask yourself is "what evidence would it take for me to change my mind?" With the plethora of nonsense and wingnut stuff on the Internet and all sorts of people with all sorts of motivations it's usually easy to find 'evidence' to support any claim or viewpoint. Once we start reading the 'evidence' to support a particular side of the argument then we fall further down the hole because of observation bias. If a person can't imagine some evidence that would change their mind then they are either dealing with something that isn't a scientific claim or they've deluded themselves into thinking they are unbiased and open to scientific evidence.

      3) You seem to keep trying to strengthen your case about the financial motivations of people who may be out to trick or fool us. While people can have nefarious motivations it IS NOT evidence to support either side of an argument. If a person holds that as a valid reason for having their view then they simply aren't a critical thinker. Of course it'd be nieve to think that no corporations or people would break the law or lie in order to financially benefit, it's also nieve to use that card to support an argument without valid scientific evidence. You see this argument is the multiple out and leads to an endless list of excuses to explain away any evidence that would go against your claim. Again, the burden of prood lies with the person saying something isn't true. For example if you say Nasa didn't land on the moon then it'd be up to your to prove they didn't. Good luck with that as no good evidence of the kind exists.

      4) The overarching problem with conspiracy theory adherents is that they aren't open to evidence of the other side. They will not even consider the evidence against the case. They will make ad hoc excuses to explain away any counter evidence. This is what I mean by falling down the rabbit hole. I'm not saying you've fallen but you seem to be skittering on a slippery slope.

      5) People who accept conspiracy theories have several reasons for doing so according to recent research into the area. First is the desire to make sense of some situation - often a tragedy. It's human nature to come up with reasons for why things happened. These people also feel special like they and they alone have priviledged access to some deep level of understanding that other people aren't aware of. This make the person feel pretty good about themselves. I can't think of the other factors off hand but I'll be back.

      6) What makes science the number one way of understanding our world is it's openness to change and/or revision. Yes there are plenty of examples of scientists that held onto their ideas well past the best before date but eventually an idea that is untrue will be overturned and replaced with a better explanation. And while there are plenty of things that science and scientists don't know yet, they are open in saying "we don't know yet". It shouldn't follow however that if science doesn't yet know it that it must have some supernatural explanation.

      My best advice is to focus on section 2. Is there some evidence you could imagine that would change your mind? Next bit of advice I would give someone who is truly open to changing their mind is to read a book by a noted skeptical thinker. I can think of nothing better than "The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe". An easier and much more entertaining thing to do is to listen to the podcast The Skeptic's Guide to the Universe.

      Talk with you soon :)

    • Oh I might add that once people start buying into the arguments for one conspiracy theory that they often start believing or accepting many of them.

    • Oh by the way I've read Neil deGrasse Tyson's book Orgins and there IS evidence for pretty much everything he says in the book. I teach science but more importantly I'm a science geek and spend hours every week reading and studying science things. My areas of greatest interest are space, new technologies, evolution and genetic engineering. I've also studied epistemology and philosophy. Basically what our foundation for knowledge is.

    • Excerpt from Steven Novella's Neurologica Blog follows. (Note that Dr. Novella is a practicing neurologist MD and a world renowned expert on scientific critical thinking.)

      Dr. Novella says:

      I tend to see conspiracy thinking as its own phenomenon. It is, in my opinion, a cognitive trap that people can fall into for various reasons. Once there, however, it does tend to take on a life of its own, reinforcing the conspiracy narrative and resisting eradication. But there are many paths to the conspiracy narrative.

      One path is tribalism or ideology. People will tend to accept conspiracies when they dovetail with their existing ideological narrative. So some Fox News Republicans thought that Obama was going to use the UN to confiscate our guns and then take over the country at the end of his term (he didn’t, btw). Meanwhile some liberals thought that 911 was an inside job of the Bush administration. These are ideologically opportunistic conspiracy theories.

      Some people may latch onto a conspiracy theory because it is the only proposed explanation and it offers cognitive closure.

      Other people are chronic conspiracy theorists. They tend to believe every conspiracy because it is a conspiracy. Even within this group there are likely different cognitive styles and tendencies leading to conspiracy thinking.

      I do think that even when cognitive closure is not the primary reason for falling into a conspiracy theory, it is a major psychological feature of conspiracy thinking. Conspiracy theories provide a dramatic narrative that can potentially explain everything. There is no uncertainty or ambiguity. In fact conspiracy theorists use uncertainty as an argument for the conspiracy. Conspiracy theories are largely based on the argument from ignorance – the inability to provide a proven explanation for every tiny detail of an event is offered as evidence for a conspiracy.

      Understanding the cognitive processes that lead to conspiracy thinking is critical to avoid falling into the trap. Once someone is fully immersed in a conspiracy theory, however, it is probably too late. Conspiracy thinking protects itself too thoroughly.

      https://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/conspiracy-thinking-and-the-need-for-certainty/

    • Could be aliens but so far the human race has no scientifically credible evidence of aliens having visited Earth. Chances are they are out there somewhere just never on Earth. Occams Razor.

    • Conspiracy theorists have an emotional desire to believe for accepting that conspiracy. It might be just the comfort of knowing why or what. It could reduce their feelings of being overwhelmed or that the world is out of controlled and things are unknowable. Whatever their need it’s clear that evidence isn’t what will change their minds or that got them there in the first place. Cults also fulfil an emotional or social need. The feeling of being part of something. Of being accepted and not so alone in the world. Research shows that after war, people’s connection to religious groups, volunteer associations and so on goes up. It goes up much more for those directly impacted by the war or tragedy. Cults sometime become established and therefore become religions and sometimes not. What makes them grow? Many reasons but it’s the desire to be part of a group that supports us that draws us in. Cults may help us understand the world but there seems to be less a connection and support network. For the record: I’m no expert on cults or the roots of conspiracy beliefs but I’ve read a fair bit about conspiracies. Covid is a tragedy for many people for a wide variety of reasons and hence one would expect a rise in the desire to be supported and to know why this is happening to oneself or one’s community. Believing a conspiracy about covid is a way to manage our discombobulation. Online, people have also found a way to turn conspiracy beliefs into a social support network. If you accept a conspiracy about covid for example, you’re likely to immediately feel some relief that you know what’s going on. It would also help you develop an enemy or target for your frustration and anger. It can make you feel purposeful and directed. Who doesn’t need this at such a time? Accepting a conspiracy is also easy. You’re provided with a ready made narrative about what’s going on. Much like accepting a religion we can simply step into something that provides all the answers. Qanon is especially effective because it can enmesh any and every concern or story you’re unsure about. It becomes easy to link things together and providers a greater narrative and I would argue an even greater sense of understanding. Add to this that conspiracies make people feel special. That they are above it all, smarter than most and superior to the masses of sheep. This is not to say those who believe in conspiracies don’t still feel ill at ease but just better while believing than back when everything was so confusing and mixed up.

      Cults are less about beliefs and more about belonging. We have other reasons for accepting to go along than just our beliefs. We get personal in the flesh and emotional support and encouragement. I’d say both fulfil a desire for understanding, to be part of something greater and to not be alone. A need for feeling special and important. Why don’t people instead just join a volunteer association or some other group? Who knows.

      What are your thoughts?

    • Perhaps cults are similar to conspiracy theories, but at the center there is a single person, not an idea (or many related ideas).

      In a cult, it seems like someone decides to abandon their personal thoughtfulness and agency in service to a specific personality. But among conspiracy-theorists, it seems like personal “thoughtfulness” runs amok and extreme individualism is put on display, even though there is a very strong group identity at the core.

      Both seem to be examples of extreme neediness. Neediness that is camouflaged by a bizarre type of belonging.

    • Oh, I never thought about it that way but it makes perfect sense. A cult is around one person’s personality.

      Hmmm, that has me thinking about the strong beliefs and personalities I know... Mormonism certainly holds up a strong personality at its core, but it’s bigger than that, no?

    • There has always been a conversation about whether Mormonism is a cult, I think? (For anyone who is not aware, Chris and I both have had an insider’s view of Mormonism.)

      I tend to think there is an element of personal surrender built-in to the Mormon experience. Inside, it is revered as “obedience” and “faith.”

      As historical research started to reveal some of the uglier sides of the so-called first modern-day Mormon Prophet (Joseph Smith), I think the church has tried to downplay its personality-focused aspects and gently transfer members’ allegiance to its 12+3 leadership model so that the cult moniker doesn’t as easily apply...

      However, the absolutism remains.

    • I’d agree that they are examples of neediness and that cults are generally built around a charismatic figure but I wouldn’t say that conspiracy theorists are being very individualistic at least not to the extreme. A great many people are conspiracy theorists and with the advent of the Internet they quickly build or find a network or group of likeminded individuals to support them in their ideas and other emotional/social/psychological needs.

    • Cults, religions...it’s all a matter of how large the following is. There’s a wide assortment of religious groups (I’d include LDS) that fall along a spectrum of beliefs and codes of conduct from the mild to extreme. Religions and cults socially evolve under various pressures and many of the things they promote are simply things that have allowed it to be more successful. You and Chris would likely get a tremendous amount of insight from the new book by Joseph Henrich called The Weirdest People in the world: how the west became psychologically peculiar and particularly prosperous. In it Henrich spends a fair bit of time showing how various western religions evolved and the drivers on how and why they changed in the ways they did. I think it helps to expose how the inherent nature of these religions or cults (call them what you will) develops in such a way that makes it more palatable that they ended up how they are. It’s easy to vilify them or make it feel like they’ve personally damaged people , but knowing why they’ve become this way sort of objectively helps a person separate the parts in a way that - at least to me - makes it more palatable or forgiveable. It is a bit more acceptable to know there are also some good things these religions did to our human psyche over hundreds or thousands of years and that it’s just our current scientific understanding that at least for myself, makes the current condition more distasteful.

    • I haven’t meant to suggest that the LDS church damages people. I don’t believe that at all. I think the LDS church creates a haven for people who need some authority outside of themselves to give them a standard by which to live. That’s not bad in and of itself. In fact, that’s exactly what good parenting is!

      It just feels like (speaking for myself) eventually, a person should grow beyond that need and establish an independent internal sense of morality and understanding. Like... grow up. Not have to always have a “general authority” tell you what to do or how to behave.

      But that’s just me...

    • I watched Merchants of Doubt again last night after remembering how great it was (and I needed a clip for a Plant Chompers video I'm making):

      Oh my God it's good, but so very depressing. Hardly anyone can resist the forces of great marketing and money when it comes to what we believe.