Archive for October 5, 2011

NSFW Links: Oct 5, 2011

October 5, 2011 3 comments

Since Steve Jobs has passed away, I have decided to re-link to some of my older NSFW posts containing self shots taken with iPhones.

iPhone SelfShots: Jun 16, 2011

iPhone SelfShots: May 12, 2011

iPhone Self-Shots: May 7, 2011

iPhone Self-Shots: 1 Apr, 2011

iPhone Self Shots: Nov 28, 2010


Categories: Uncategorized

Paradigm Traps Are Disastrous But Fixable

October 5, 2011 11 comments

As I have previously noted– attrition, not optimization, drive evolution and progress. That does however involve defeating, destroying or annihilating once dominant individuals, ideas and paradigms.

When people, institutions and societies are based on ideologies with little basis in objectively quantifiable reality, they fall into a ‘paradigm trap’ which actively prevents them from finding better solutions to their problems. Since few people voluntarily rock the proverbial boat or dare suggest that the emperor is naked, much unnecessary misery is caused and perpetuated by such ‘paradigm traps’.

Let me start with two easy to understand, and historic, examples of how beliefs in old paradigms destroyed the lives of countless people.

Example 1: Scurvy is caused by the deficiency of dietary Vitamin C. Today, it is rare- even in poorer countries. However that was not always the case.

For centuries people who lived on non-fresh food, be they North Europeans during winters or globe-trotting sailors during the age of discovery suffered and died from scurvy on a scale that is mind-boggling to moderns. The bizarre part is that many edible plants with similar or higher levels of Vitamin C than citrus fruits such as tomatoes, green peppers, grapefruit, black currants, rosehip, parsley, Indian gooseberry and a few herbs were known and often used to treat scurvy type symptoms in folk medicine. However such treatment was frowned upon by university educated doctors of those eras because it was against their beliefs and ideas.

Since scurvy was common, known to be completely reversible and a major drain on European navies during the 15th-18th century- you would be tempted to think that some smart people would have got their shit together and found a solution, even if meant swallowing their pride. Yet it took almost 300 years of suffering for the first definitive official clinical trial to occur. However even that clinical trial and the effects of applying its recommendation in the British navy did not convince many doctors who still insisted that scurvy was caused by things such as sodomy, drinking, lack of discipline, food spoilage etc. So why did it take till 1932 (isolation of ascorbic acid) for everyone to accept that scurvy was the result of a dietary deficiency?

While many of you might invoke all sorts of logical sounding reasons, the reality was- few wanted to abandon their theories irrespective of the consequences. Sounding right was obviously far more important than doing the right thing.

Example 2: The germ theory of infectious illness, especially for tuberculosis, took decades to be accepted as fact even after people could demonstrate that microbes could be isolated, grown and used to reinfect healthy animals.

Remember that was the state of affairs at the end of the 19th century, over 60 years after Ignaz Semmelweis showed that empirically and over 20 years after modern microbiology was born. Remember that most doctors until the 1890s did not believe that microbes caused diseases- even after new vaccines such as Pasteur’s anthrax and rabies vaccines were developed and evaluated. They did not believe it even after numerous epidemiological and microbiological studies showed the infectious nature of water-borne illnesses. They did not believe it even after diptheria anti-toxin and anti-plague serum started saving peoples lives. They refused to believe that malaria was a protozoal infection transmitted by mosquitoes.

It was only after the older generation of doctors started dying out and were replaced by the newer generation who believed in these “non-traditional” ideas that real change started to occur. Between 1895 and 1905- ideas which were considered to be less than respectable became the new normal.

So what was behind the older generations unwillingness to change even after objectively reproducible evidence was available? Once again, appearing right and authoritative was far more important than being so.

It comes down to the unwillingness to believe that currently popular mental models of the world might be incomplete or wrong.People who strongly believe in ideas do not care about objective reality, the validity of other views or the possibility that they may be wrong. The mental investment in their cherished world view trumps anything and everything that might suggest the contrary.

To put it another way, you cannot reason with them because they are intellectually dishonest and delusional to their very core.

No amount of data or independent observations can convince them otherwise. Do you really think that Japan would have ever moved on without somebody forcing them to? The same can be said of India, China and many other Asian countries. Would the European mental model of the world have changed without WW1 and WW2?

Would those who make a living by promoting the idea of man-made global warming ever care about anything which contradicts it? Would most doctors who promoted the ‘fat is bad’ hysteria ever willingly accept defeat? Would those who promote the ‘war on drugs’ ever care about anything that suggest that their whole enterprise is a self-serving scam?

Hint: They will never do so. At best they will pretend to acknowledge the other side and go back to their scam.

The reality is that ideologues of all stripes- from tea partiers, deficit hawks, CONservatives, LIEbertarians to vegetarians, feminists and environmentalists will continue to peddle their scams as long as they are alive.

It is simply not possible to have a real discussion with a true believer in any ideology. You might have more success reasoning with a dog to not lick its balls. Change requires the demise of true believers in any that particular ideology.

There is no nice way to change the status quo and you have to destroy infected hosts to kill defunct ideologies and belief system. You could of course choose to do nothing, and let their madness destroy many other innocent lives. Remember this every time you proclaim your desire for “real” change.

I will end this post with a bit of dialogue from “The Dark Knight” (2008)

Batman: [slams Joker into mirror] Where are they?
The Joker: Killing is making a choice.
Batman: [punches Joker] Where are they?
The Joker: Choose between one life or the other. Your friend, the district attorney or his blushing bride-to-be…[punches Joker]
The Joker: [laughs] You have nothing! Nothing to threaten me with, nothing to do with all your strength.[grabs Joker]
The Joker: Don’t worry, I’m gonna tell you where they are, both of them and that’s the point. You’ll have to choose. He’s at 250 52ND Street and she’s at Avenue X at Cicero.