Pick Wayne's Brain

June 5, 2016

Can American Democracy Actually Work?

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 10:55 PM

I want to believe. I want to believe that democracy can work in America. But can it? Can it really?

Although it was originally posted more than two years ago on Alternet, Raw Story reprinted an article that makes me wonder. It seems humans will believe what they want to believe, facts be damned. People who thought there were WMDs in Iraq clung to that misperception even harder when shown an article correcting that story. People who thought President George W. Bush banned ALL stem cell research still believed that even when told only a partial ban was put in effect. (No new stem cell lines could be created for research, but research was allowed to continue using the 60+ lines then in existence. Which isn’t nearly enough.) These were examples making conservatives look bad, but political leaning has nothing to do with it. It’s true of all humans, regardless of political philosophies. Facts simply don’t matter. But Education does. If you’re taught the truth about things when you’re younger, you’re less likely to believe false things when you get older. Kids grow up believing what their parents teach them to believe, which is fine if the parents aren’t complete idiots. But if they are, by the time kids enter the public education system they’re already off to a bad start. It would help if schools were allowed to teach actual critical thinking skills, as people would learn how to verify new information and not just accept it because it confirms what they already believe. But as the study shows, that seems to be the essence of the problem. We do not seem to be wired to process information this way. At least, according to how the scientist interpreted the results. There was no measure beforehand of how well the participants could use critical thinking skills, and therefore may have had pre-conceived ideas (however false) but couldn’t process the new information in a way that would make them change their opinion. Hence, the tendency to cling harder to what they previously believed to be true.

Religion may also be responsible for much of this. And not just Christianity, but organized religion of any kind. Particularly in America, we have a lot of people who claim religion is important in their lives, but who don’t even know basic facts about their own religion as well as atheists and agnostics do. But the areas in America where religion is least important are also the areas where literacy rates tend to be higher. Religion requires no critical thinking, and discourages questioning what one is told to be the truth. And while there have been men (almost entirely) who were allowed to explore questions about faith, their answers were heavily censored and only allowed publication if approved by the religious leaders. In other words, not a lot of objectivity, and essentially just an addition to what people are being told to believe. The approved philosophical writings were used to justify why what you were being told is the truth, which is what the study seemed to indicate happens even with so-called smarter people. People still believe what they want to believe and use their reasoning to justify it afterwards. The problem is, there are way too many people in this country who believe provably false things like the Sun revolves around the Earth, and a large percentage who don’t know the Universe began with some kind of large explosion (as opposed to being brought into existence as is). Even more frightening is that more than half do not understand or believe in Evolution. How many times have you heard someone (often a religious conservative) say, “If we’re descended from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?” (Evolution doesn’t say all monkeys turned into humans. Evolution says humans and monkeys share a common ancestor.) If you can’t start with the most basic of factually correct information, how can you possibly make a well-reasoned decision on which direction to take our country? If you think voting for someone who actually believes the Earth is less than 10,000 years old is going to solve our nation’s problems, then you’re one of the problems.

As I said before, Education can help, especially when started at an early age. As soon as children learn there are natural explanations for the way the Universe works (even if we don’t fully understand them yet), and that it’s not all attributable to an impossible Being with severely psychotic tendencies who kills at a whim, there is hope for Democracy in this country. And a better life for all, too. Studies have shown that elsewhere in the world, the highest standards of living tend to be found in the least religious countries, and the poorest in the most religious. America seems to be the exception. We have both a higher-than-average standard of living and yet are among the more religious countries in the world. But that will change if more Americans grow up believing nonsense before they are taught to think for themselves. Otherwise we just end up with another generation that doesn’t have enough sense to realize someone like Donald Trump is too ignorant and unqualified to run this country. And because he loves the poorly-educated, he’ll create more because they love him so much. And the Great Experiment known as America will have finally failed.

Please don’t let anyone you know vote for Donald Trump. You’ll just be voting for the end of America.

May 7, 2016

Who You Calling a God?

Filed under: Commentary, Religion, Science — Tags: , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 8:46 PM

I want to talk about something that’s important to me and I know that along the way I’m going to greatly offend a significant portion of you wonderful people reading this. And even if it isn’t what I say that you’ll find offensive, I’m sure some of you won’t like the way I say it. But as the closing song in “Night Shift” (sung by Rod Stewart) goes, “That’s What Blogs Are For.” I am atheist. I do not believe in the existence of gods. To be clear, I do not believe in the existence of gods as they have been portrayed in most religions, entertainment depictions, and writings known to many. I don’t believe the set of gods worshiped by the ancient Romans and Greeks actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe the “One True God” worshiped by Jews, Christians, and Muslims actually existed. Ever. Nor do I believe any of the other gods worshiped by billions of other people throughout human history actually existed. Ever. I do not believe that the Universe was created by some kind of sentient being, often, and for purposes of this discussion, referred to as “God.” I also do not believe that a Universe without God means we got “something from nothing.” People who say that do not understand the Big Bang theory. It wasn’t “nothing,” it was a hot, almost infinitely dense singularity that exploded, expanded outward, and eventually formed what we often think of as the “Universe.” And when I refer to “the Universe,” I am specifically referring to the Matter and Energy that directly resulted from the Big Bang event that created “our” Universe. I have reason to think there are things out there unrelated to our Big Bang, but I’ll eventually get into that in a later post. My point is simply that there is a scientific explanation for how things came to be (the Big Bang event being just one possible part of it; other scientific theories exist), and that there doesn’t need to be anything like a god to explain it all.

This may surprise some of your Christian relatives and friends, but in many other religions, (more…)

April 3, 2016

How Both Sides Get Political Debate Wrong

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 8:08 PM

Political discourse in this country has sunk to a depth I feared we would one day reach, and it shows no signs of rising again anytime soon. We no longer talk about issues starting from a common point of view. Liberals and Conservatives don’t agree on what role our government should have, so any discussion about what it should do is really pointless if we don’t know from where the other guy is starting. According to George Lakoff, where Liberals would see the nation through the Nurturing Parent model, Conservatives would tend to see it as the Strict Father. When you screw up, should the government find an appropriate punishment for your wrongdoing and sit you down and explain why what you did was wrong, with discussions on how to be a better person afterwards, with the goal of making you want to choose to be a better person, or should it just spank you in the ass, lock you in your room without supper, and let you out after so much time has passed saying, “Next time’ll be worse”? Who should be deciding what our government does? People who believe in doing what’s best for all of us, or people who think only certain people should get preferential treatment? We all agree in equality for all, we just don’t necessarily agree on how important that is, or to exactly what “equality for all” refers. We agree in Justice and Fairness, but we don’t agree on how important those morals should be. If we say everybody should participate in discussing Society’s problems, shouldn’t we make sure everybody agrees on exactly what the problems are that we are discussing? Are you talking about the two faces staring at each other? Or are you talking about the candlestick in between them? Both of you see a problem. but what is the problem you both see? There are many differences in the way the brains of Liberals and Conservatives process information. To find a common solution, we must first have common ground. I’m not really sure how that’s possible, but I do know our discussions aren’t getting us anywhere because (more…)

March 20, 2016

How The Right Gets The Left Wrong

John Hinderaker and Jeffrey Lord, two men who can best be remembered from me mentioning their names at the start of this blog post without the word ‘miscreant’ attached to either of them, are at it again. And by “it” I mean “spreading falsehoods about Liberals”. I was going to use the word “lying,” but then somebody would say it’s not really lying because they honestly believe it’s true. Fine. It isn’t true, it’s false, so I said they were spreading falsehoods. Whether they knew they were falsehoods or not is irrelevant, because they still spread them. But if it makes you feel any better, I think they knew they were falsehoods when they spread them like manure. I say that because I don’t think they’re entirely stupid, and you would have to be entirely stupid to believe the things they said about Liberals and MoveOn.Org recently. [Full disclosure: I am a member of MoveOn.Org. I had my picture used in a commercial they ran several years ago. I wish I could find it.] So I think they know they were spreading foul-smelling crap when they sprinkled it throughout their columns. Because they know their fans just eat that shit up, on account of that’s much easier than having to actually think about it. And Conservatives do not like to put a lot of effort into their thinking, which explains their Conservatism. (Science has been able to document many ways in which Conservative and Liberal minds differ. Read more about them here. Truth be told: the science does not support the idea of Conservatism being a bastion of curious, inquisitive, intellectual discovery. Or even one of just trying to learn the basic truth about things.)

A little over a week ago in Dayton, OH, a man named Tommy DiMassimo attempted to get up on the stage where Donald Trump was speaking but (more…)

March 11, 2016

It’s Those Damn Clocks Again

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 5:05 AM

“Spring Forward, Fall Back.” It seems we learned that one before we learned the Lord’s Prayer. (Some of you may have learned that one faster than the rest of us.) But why do we do it? Wasn’t Daylight Savings Time something Ben Franklin thought up? Wasn’t it supposed to be for the benefit of the farmers, so they would have more daylight to harvest their crops and work their fields? Don’t they have alarm clocks now? Can’t they just let the rest of us sleep?

The answers are: To save energy. Yes. Yes. I’m sure they do. No.

Not going along with it may defeat the point, to save energy. You see, the theory goes that if daylight lasts a little longer, there will be less demand for turning on lights. It is assumed that during the extended hour of darkness the next morning, you’ll have fewer lights turned on.

But, contrary to (more…)

February 28, 2016

Leap of Science Day

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 6:35 PM

Monday, February 29, 2016, marks another nearly-quadrennial observation of the triumph of Science over Faith. Leap Day. The day we add to the calendar to correct for the fact that God didn’t make the Earth go around the Sun in a way that has any relation to how long it takes to spin once on its axis. Nor did God make the Moon orbit the Earth in an even number of days, or in relation to the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, which turned out to be the Center of our own Solar System (one of, it turns out, a hundred billion in just this Galaxy) contrary to what those men who had a direct pipeline to the Almighty Creator told everyone was true. Not for nothing, but doesn’t the fact that some otherwise ordinary man who was in charge of a Religion tortured people for not believing something that was scientifically inaccurate and still got to be called “infallible” make you think, even for a second, that maybe their Religion was wrong about other things, too? But I digress. Or not. Now the Moon goes around the Earth 13 times for each revolution of the Earth around the Sun, depending on how you measure them. I thought the number 13 was supposed to be bad. So why would God make our Moon go around the Earth a bad number of times in a year? In fact, assuming God did make our solar system, why make our planet have such a strange orbit? Why not a regular, circular, easily predictable, revolution, with no tilting of the planet and changing of the seasons? And why not start life in the tropics, instead of a desert? And why even bother with the other planets and planetary debris and asteroids if the point of this planet was to support life for the only living things in the universe? If there’s nothing on Mars for us to see, then why would God make Mars for us to see? Or let us name it for an inferior god? Sorry, but the whole Christian Creation Myth makes no more sense than any other cultures’ creation myths. When something doesn’t make sense through Reason, they tell us you have to have Faith. But Faith is just the rejection of Reason, so they are really telling us, “It makes sense if you don’t think about it.” Then why believe it? Why believe something is literally true if it makes no sense when you think about it? Then explain to me why you should threaten peoples’ lives for not believing it? But I digress. Again. Leap Day is a triumph because it was Science, not Religion, which revealed to us our method of keeping track of time needed adjusting if it was to keep in alignment with whichever celestial body was guiding our long term time reckoning. The ancient Egyptians used a much simpler calendar, which they knew needed tweaking every four years. To understand why we do it today, you have to (more…)

March 7, 2015

The Spring Forward Position

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 12:05 AM

“Spring Forward, Fall Back.” It seems we learned that one before we learned the Lord’s Prayer. (Some of you may have learned that one faster than the rest of us.) But why do we do it? Wasn’t Daylight Savings Time something Ben Franklin thought up? Wasn’t it supposed to be for the benefit of the farmers, so they would have more daylight to harvest their crops and work their fields? Don’t they have alarm clocks now? Can’t they just let the rest of us sleep?

The answers are: (more…)

March 21, 2014

Will Creationists Never Get It?

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 9:58 PM

In case you didn’t already know, I’m an Atheist, and happy and proud to be one. I believe that our portion of the Space-Time Continuum came into being as the result of a Big Bang, an explosion of matter and energy that rapidly expanded, and eventually formed the many, many galaxies of which our own is just one. I said “Space-Time Continuum” instead of “Universe” because I believe there are many, many Universes, spread far apart from one another. The Space-Time Continuum is just the framework within which everything happened, happens, and will happen. It is infinite in size, and infinite in time. It has (more…)

March 8, 2014

Forward March

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 12:23 AM

We used to say, “Spring Forward, Fall Back” to help us remember which way to change our clocks during our semi-annual, Unnecessary Activity of the Year. But we no longer change clocks in the Spring, we do it a couple of weeks earlier. So now we might as well say, “Forward March, Fall Down.” But why do we even bother to do it? Whose brilliant idea was it? Does it even do what it’s supposed to do? Is there a better way?

The answers are: Supposedly, to save energy. Ben Franklin, sort of. That depends on where you live and what you wanted it to do. Yes, yes there is.

Save Your Energy
According to a great article in National Geographic, it’s supposed to save on energy, but the results are mixed on that. In some states (more…)

February 8, 2014

Why Republican Religiosity is Wrong

According to my dictionary, the definition of “fact” is

n. 1. the quality of existing or of being real; actuality; truth.
2. something known to exist or have happened.
3. a truth known by actual experience or observation.

Facts are important. When Reality offers a challenge, you must deal with facts if you’re going to solve the problem. You can’t solve a real problem if you ignore the facts, or worse, try to act as if the opposite were true. Now look at the definition of “belief”:

n. 1. something believed; an opinion or conviction.
2. confidence in the truth or existence of something not immediately susceptible to vigorous proof.
3. confidence, faith, or trust.
4. a religious tenet or tenets

Notice the difference between these two words. Facts have the quality of (more…)

November 9, 2013

Nothing To Worry About

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 7:52 AM

Sometime over this weekend, or early next week, a one-ton satellite will come crashing to Earth. Where it will land is unknown right now. It could be in the middle of Central Park in New York City, or maybe it will come down onto an elementary school in Los Angeles, or maybe it will come down on your house. Despite how frightening any of those scenarios may sound, I wouldn’t worry about it if I were you. It’s only a ton. And it’s not like the whole thing is going to come down on any one spot. It’s going to come down on 35 spots, give or take ten. Still, a whole ton and there’s nothing to worry about? Yes.

You see, in the grand scheme of things, a ton of something crashing down towards Earth really is nothing. According to Cornell University’s Ask an Astronomer webpage, a total of anywhere from 37,000 to 78,000 tons of materials fall from thje sky every year in the form of meteorites. That’s roughly 100-200 tons per day! One more ton on top of that would just be adding about 0.5-1% more. Like I said, nothing to worry about.

September 8, 2013

The Bible Is Not Science

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 11:15 PM

David Rives, of David Rives Ministries, was a guest on a program called “Creation Today” just this past Friday, and he made the claim that The Big Bang Theory about the creation of the Universe is “bad science” because it contradicts The Bible. This is literally, of course, complete nonsense. You cannot presuppose that the Bible is 100% accurate simply because it declares itself to be, and then argue that anything that contradicts the Bible cannot possibly be accurate. There is no reason or sense to the claims of the Bible where the creation of the Universe is concerned. Take the stars. (more…)

August 31, 2013

The Naked Greenland

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 12:46 AM

Just when you thought you knew what your planet looked like, along comes a surprise – there’s another canyon on our planet that rivals our own Grand Canyon. It’s in (more…)

August 23, 2013

Weird Spiders

Filed under: Science — Tags: , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 9:37 PM

While searching for a topic for this week’s post, I happened across a fascinating collection of weird spiders. Some of them are jaw-droppingly amazing. One has evolved to look just like a ladybug, not known for being tasty. Another could easily be mistaken for (more…)

August 3, 2013

Americans Will Believe Anything

Americans will believe anything. Don’t believe me?

A friend and co-worker of ours likes to give us things off his despair.com desk calendar. The entry from a couple of months ago was called

I want to believe…

48 % of Americans believe in ghosts. (Source: CBS News [NOTE: CBS apparently does not know what “majority” means.])

41% of Americans believe (more…)

April 27, 2013

The White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner Tonight

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 1:44 AM

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner is tonight, April 27, 2013, with most coverage beginning at 9 PM ET on the cable news channels. C-SPAN cooverage begins several hours earlier. As a preview, here are last year’s performances by President Barack Obama, followed by host Jimmy Kimmel. Note how the president’s joke about hockey moms versus pit bulls goes over.

Jimmy Kimmel’s bit begins with my favorite feature from, his show, “This Week in Unnecessary Censorship.” He says a joke about (more…)

March 16, 2013

At The Speed of Light

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 2:55 AM

In an interview with StarTalk Radio host Chuck Nice, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explained why photons (the particles that carry light) exist outside of time. “…As you increase your speed, time ticks more slowly for you than it does for anyone who is watching you,” he said on StarTalk Radio. “This is the relativity of time. This is well known. We have measured this. It is not just your clock that is clicking slower, your metabolism is unfolding more slowly, your brain synapses are firing more slowly, everything about you is (more…)

February 16, 2013

Keep Watching the Skies!

Filed under: Commentary, Science — Tags: , , , , , , , — Wayne A. Schneider @ 5:02 AM

Yesterday, and be thankful to Whomever or Whatever you believe in that we can start with that word, a large asteroid given the ever so endearing name 2012 DA14 (don’t you want to adopt one?) passed within about 17,000 miles of the Earth. We have satellites orbiting at about 22,237 miles (approximately 35,787 km) above mean sea level. [Thank you, Arthur C. Clarke, for figuring that out for us.] This asteroid passed (yes, past tense!) closer to us than that. It didn’t hit anything as it passed by, but that is really just a matter of luck, no matter how you believe the Universe works. You may be thinking, “So what? It missed us, right? What’s the problem?” Think of it this way: It missed us by fifteen minutes. As famed Science Guy Bill Nye explains, that’s not the one you should be worried about. For every one of these large asteroids that they’ve been able to find, it is estimated there are 99 that that haven’t been found yet.

But just as much a matter of luck was the meteorite that came crashing down in Chelyabinsk, Russia that same day. [BTW, that link you just passed has some fascinating information in it, including an explanation of the difference between a meteor and an asteroid. Check it out.] Due to some kind of fad or obsession among the Russian people (official motto, “Screw you, Life, we’re still here!”), there are a lot of people driving around with dashboard cameras. It has something to do with insurance claims, or maybe encounters with the police, or maybe even to catch a meteorite flashing across the sky in front of you.

And, because it crashed into Russia, there were the inevitable comparisons to the Tunguska Event. And that’s where I start to get worried. Because they’re talking about a once-in-a-hundred-years event that hasn’t happened in more than one hundred years!

Good night, now. Go to sleep. 😉

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