WordPress informed me that my last post was the 200th post on this blog. With that and the new year, it’s a good time for my idea of a post that collects some of the best posts from before, many of which have fallen way below the top of the list here but which I’d recommend people to read.
This is quite a lot of posts, but I have been posting here for years, so these really are just some of the best ones. I hope that you’ll click on something that you’ll find interesting. You can scroll down to see different “categories”, written in bold.
In particular, I think I’ve got some good old ones about critical thinking:
- What One Should be the Most Critical about is my favourite. You can know all the tricks of critical thinking but still be easily tripped by the same insidious error that everyone else is making.
- Another important one is Information Cancer, which argues that fake evidence can be hard to tell apart from real evidence and how easy it is to fall into this trap.
- How to Be a Critical Thinker in One Easy Step highlights how both of the above can lead to people thinking that they are critical when they are ridiculously uncritical.
- Time to realise there are idiots on both sides and Never Agree with a Bad Argument call out the tendency of people to judge their ideological opponents by their worst examples while accepting complete rubbish from their own side.
- Small Evidence, Big Theory is about how you need much more evidence to support a theory than it might seem.
In addition to critical thinking, many of my articles overlap into what might called “scientific thinking” — how science works in general.
- Science is not based on faith in human reason discusses how science is not based on “faith on reason as opposed to revelation” or anything like that so much as based on mistrusting human reason and doubting everything until it has been incredibly well established.
- You can’t blame people for holding unscientific beliefs (except…) describes why it’s actually perfectly understandable that people believe in things that lack objectively credible evidence — and that is exactly why science needs to be so damned cautious.
- In Absence of Evidence makes an important point about things that are beyond proof or disproof by evidence: why this should only lead to agnosticism in some cases. For readers who know Finnish, how this relates to methodological naturalism in science is further discussed in Tiede ja yliluonnolliset selitykset: Metodologisen naturalism tarpeellisuus.
- Another Finnish-only post is Ovatko paradigmat ja vallankumoukset välttämättömiä tieteessä?, which discusses Kuhn’s notions of paradigms and scientific revolutions in light of Nicholas Maxwell’s response and criticism.
- Science and the social construction of reality tackles the question of whether and how, when all beliefs seem to be socially constructed, science could still be objectively reliable.
While I’m not a scientist, I also cover a few topics that could be said to be about science, be it evolution or psychology or something else:
- 6 stupid things done by natural selection demonstrates how natural selection really works by showing examples of how it doesn’t always make things “better”.
- Richard Dawkins on “genetic determinism” points out what Dawkins said ages ago that should have rebutted the idea of genetic determinism.
- Nature vs. “natural” criticises the shallow concept of naturalness employed by the “organic” movement and others and points out how it doesn’t fit real ecology.
- Memes are selfish too (and at our expense) — How the natural selection of memes is bad for us should have been called “Selfish memes”, but every article about memes already uses that title, even though they’re not talking about what I say here.
- No, Reincarnation Isn’t Physics isn’t really about science because the idea that it’s debunking is so far from having the relationship to science that it claims to have.
- Evolution, Psychology, and Ethics combines empirical science with philosophy to make conclusions about what we should think of what’s right and wrong.
Philosophy is the field I’m supposed to be studying, so the next ones will be miscellaneous philosophy.
- Some difficulties in thinking about time looks at how assumptions about time pervade our thinking so much that they make thinking about the nature of time difficult.
- The Decision Machine presents a thought experiment showing why it might be that we think that we are (or have to be) able to choose between different options when making a free choice — even if determinism is true. It’s just one of the many posts I have about free will.
- The Ultimate Sceptical Argument (Leads Nowhere) — What things can we doubt? What can we know? Can we really refute all scepticism?
- How Does Meaning and Purpose Emerge in a Mechanistic Universe? tackles the big question of how a mechanistic universe can become a humanly meaningful one.
- In Two Kinds of Morality… Actually, Just One, I point out how there can be completely different bases for what people think of as “moral” — and how, once they are stripped of deceptive words, some ideas about morality turn out to be anything but moral.
- In Possibility Is Just Lack of Contradiction, I analyse the notion of possibility and of possible worlds and give them a simple reductive explanation that accounts for all the facts and is justified by them.
- The philosophical gap looks at a common phenomenon where really thinking about things makes it seem like what you knew was totally wrong — when really it only seems like that because you’re still stuck in the old view of how things “should” be.
Some of my posts combine popular fiction with philosophy:
- Three articles examine philosophical questions related to the esteemed graphic novel (ie. comic book) Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan: Time, causality and freedom, Dr. Manhattan 2: Reductionism, life, and miracles, and the unfortunately spoilery Watchmen’s Ozymandias and the ultimate moral dilemma.
- A Philosopher in The Matrix is a parody dialogue exploring some philosophical questions through the premise of the Matrix movies.
- “The Machine” and the big problem with the continuity of consciousness takes as a starting point the first comic of the philosophy web comic Existential Comics and shows how some of the brain-hurting thought experiments shown in it can’t be properly answered without a better theory of consciousness.
- Simplex, complex, multiplex: A collection of quotes tries to give help in understanding the confusing, intriguing concepts introduced by Samuel R. Delany in his novel Empire Star.
I have also written about religion and spirituality from various angles, as a very well-informed outsider to organised religion.
- First things first: What’s the Difference between Spirituality and Religion?
- Sometimes the “Big” Questions Don’t Matter is about religion as well as other ideological differences — and why they sometimes don’t make much of a difference the way that it’s natural to think they do.
- Faith without Belief? and A synthesis of religious belief and naturalism? ponder the question of whether what’s really valuable in religion could be stripped of connection to supernatural beliefs.
- “Against Their Religion” or “Wrong”? is about how people who complain about others wanting to impose their religion upon others sometimes put the objection in a way that is missing the point.
- The imperfect universe and the idea of a perfect being questions whether the idea of a perfect god as a creator even makes any sense.
I also have a number of posts that could be described as “answers to stuff I hear people say a lot.” Sometimes, there are things you keep hearing people say, but when you really think about it, they don’t really make sense.
- In A Note on Things That We Cannot Understand, I talk about how people appeal to the idea that we have to accept that there are some things that we cannot understand… and why, while true enough, this doesn’t do what they want it to do.
- In Fundamentalist on Others’ Behalf, I note how people rather absurdly complain when their ideological opponents are being too reasonable.
- The Mythical Animal notes that people often have an automatic way of talking about what non-human animals are like… when they really mean to say something about humans and have little real knowledge to justify what they’re saying about all the other species in a huge blanket statement.
- In Then why is it called “feminism”? (Like you don’t know.), I show that, quite aside from the fact that there’s nothing wrong with the name “feminism” in the final analysis, those asking why it refers to women if it’s about equality do already know why it’s thought appropriate — if only they thought straight instead of looking for ways to attack.
- Finally, in These days, I talk about the minor but weird and ubiquitous phenomenon where people seem to automatically assume that anything that they observe now must be a new thing, even though they have absolutely no evidence about the past and the past may not even be at issue.
I haven’t written so many reviews, but here are a few I could highlight:
- Last Song Before Night by Ilana C. Myer and High Rage by James Burk are two fantasy novels by friends of mine. The first one is awesome and the second is interesting and good too; both have interesting twists on the premise.
- Biocentrism by Robert Lanza and Bob Berman and Mind and Cosmos by Thomas Nagel are bold books with interesting ideas, but both fail as philosophy and science in interesting ways.
- How to Think Straight about Psychology by Keith Stanovich is notable for how, even though it’s just a short textbook, it really gets to the bottom of what the scientific method is all about.
- What Does a Martian Look Like? by Ian Stewart and Jack Cohen is a really interesting one — speculating about what alien life could be like without either making unjustified leaps or being unimaginatively constrained by what life is like on Earth.
Some interesting stuff falls outside these rough categories, but that’s enough of a sample for now. I hope you’ll find some of these interesting.