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Why are unscientific beliefs increasing among millennials?
We don’t have to stop inquiring or wondering about the far-flung vistas of reality, we just need to do it with some good old-fashioned logic.
We live in a strange and magnificent world. Throughout our species' time on Earth, humans have looked to the stars and the world they inhabit for answers. Babylonian mathematicians, Mayan astronomers and the vast enterprise of scientific and philosophic inquiry endemic to Greco-Roman society—these were just some of the many cultures and civilizations throughout the ages that dared to question and learn about the cosmos around them. It is because of these intellectual giants through antiquity and beyond that we know so much about the world.
Isaac Newton said: "If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants."
That is by and large how our understanding of the world grows beyond our first feeble grasp of it in all areas of logical inquiry. Whether it be science, history or philosophy, we build on the knowledge of our past. Yet there has always been an undercurrent of superstition, illogical thinking and general quackery afoot that's ready to chip away at what we have gained.
Now, we're all entitled to our fair share of weird ideas and mishaps; Newton himself was an alchemist and spent years of his life trying to decode the Book of Revelations in the Bible. But don't forget, the man also created calculus and threw us into a scientific period of understanding, which coined the Newtonian worldview before Albert Einstein usurped him. But he was also simply a product of his time, so we can excuse him for any lapse in ecclesial judgment.
Portrait of Sir Isaac Newton in old age by James Thornhill, 1709-12. (Wikimedia Commons)
Today, we have the entire wealth of human knowledge literally at our fingertips. You'd think that'd pave the way for a cultural renaissance of sorts that might eclipse our 15th-century Florentine forefathers. But that hasn't quite been the case.
Many of our millennial cohorts have entered into a strange unscientific and irrational milieu. Astrology is gaining steam as a theory of personality; flat-Earthers are actually growing in number, and you don't even have to stray that far from your local street-corner preacher anymore to hear wild denials of the moon landing and other unqualified pundits propagating absurd conspiracies.
So what got us into this mess and why do so many people—millenials and other generations included—believe in such nonsense? Let's start with the stars.
Astrology is finding a growing audience among millennials
Astrology as a system of belief has been around for thousands of years. It implies that the location of the stars and planets at the time of someone's birth determines their personality and life course. Those astrologers dedicated to the process write horoscopes and claim that they can predict your fate and reveal your true nature through zodiac charts.
Astrology has always been alluring to youth movements and has featured in youth culture from the 1960s onward. In a time when the younger generations are less religious, but still considered spiritual, it's no surprise that astrology has become so popular again with the youth.
Stuart Vyse, psychologist and author of Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition, has written on the subject of millennial astrology:
“The rise of a generation that is not as traditionally religious as previous ones but still seeking a kind of spiritual satisfaction, combined with the vanquishing of liberal politics in the United States and abroad, has created a fertile environment for this form of superstition and unreason."
Vyse, citing a Finnish Study that gave questionnaires to people signed up for adult education classes, explains that those signed up for astrology courses were more prone to have recently experienced more crises in their life.
His takeaway from this was that: “So, it appears that when people lose their footing and are shaken by the world, astrology provides a sense of order and control."
It seems that in the absence of religion people are more willing to believe in other non-scientific and unreasonable ideas.
“Over the past two years, we've really seen a reframing of New Age practices, very much geared toward a Millennial and young Gen X quotient," Lucie Greene, the worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson's innovation group, a consumer trend think tank, says to The Atlantic.
'Unreality', a 2016 trend report by the J. Walter Thompson innovation group, found that: "Astrology apps, psychic consultations over Skype and online tarot readings for those seeking direction are on the rise, apparently mirroring an increase in the diagnosis of anxiety disorders in young women. Clinical psychologist Jessamy Hibberd claims the link between the two is due to uncertainty about the future and a desire for a more directed destiny."
Astrology is arguably an inane and harmless belief. Aside from you wild Scorpios butting heads with a quick-tempered Aries, it's safe to say that astrology isn't that big of a problem. Rather, it's the underlying mindset that leads to trouble. Carl Sagan said that "Science is more than a body of knowledge. It's a way of thinking," then, worryingly, perhaps unscientific reasoning is a way of thinking too.
Superstitious thinking and grand conspiracies
Challenging questionable status quos of history and scientific inquiry is good for the advancement of knowledge. Challenging settled, indisputable, immutable, historical events and observable—without a shadow of a doubt—natural phenomenon is an exercise in pure delusion.
Unfounded claims and arguments that we never landed on the moon and that Earth is flat have tired themselves out to any rational-minded person. There's really no need anymore to defend against these ridiculous claims. Just one study by Dr. David Robert Grimes puts into perspective what it would take for these and other conspiracies to remain hidden taking into account the sheer number of people that would be involved in one.
Rather than waste valuable time debunking the treadmill of conspiracies, we instead need to look at why these views are taken up in the first place.
Conspiracies, astrological love charts and the like stem from a feeling of powerlessness or the need to feel that you have special knowledge over others. Psychologist, Jan-Willem van Prooijen conducted a number of studies which correlated higher educational levels and feelings of control inversely with the belief in conspiracies.
That is to say, with increased education levels came a feeling of being more in control which then lead to lessened belief in conspiracies or other kinds of superstitious thinking.
Van Prooijen goes on to say that:
“By teaching children analytic thinking skills along with the insight that societal problems often have no simple solutions, by stimulating a sense of control, and by promoting a sense that one is a valued member of society, education is likely to install the mental tools that are needed to approach far-fetched conspiracy theories with a healthy dose of skepticism."
A lack of agency grasping at a need for stability
One reason for the pervasiveness of groundless ideas and theories is that they serve as a way to make sense of a chaotic world. People would rather believe that they're ill-fated by a bum roll of the astrological dice or that a secret order is the reason they can't get ahead in life.
Sometimes tragic events happen for no good reason. They're simply churning out of the chaotic pool of randomness. It's a much more comforting psychological function to believe that someone or some cabal is behind it all. Unfortunately, this leads many would-be skeptics away from solving real problems or even real political conspiracies that do occur.
Here's a prime example.
Robert Anton Wilson was an unconventional science-fiction writer and provocateur from the good old Age of Aquarius who was responsible for bringing back an old and defunct secret society into the cultural consciousness. In his Illuminatus trilogy, Wilson, who wrote in an unbridled and self-professed guerilla ontological manner, played hard and fast with the rules of storytelling and general conspiracy literature.
This lead to one of the many favorite conspiracies of millennials, the Illuminati, a secret cabal that's not only controlling the strings of hundreds of disparate countries and running the world but also taking the time to throw in some occult references in at the latest Super Bowl halftime show.
This alone illustrates a pertinent point about conspiracy and unscientific thinking. Wilson was a nuanced and general trickster when it came to writing. Not many people realize that this erudite and often ridiculous story was an in-joke that evolved into the grand conspiracy it is today amongst the youth.
A word of advice, when you're bordering on the edge on inquiry, you may find yourself in conspiratorial waters. Whether it be supposed messages from the stars or an insidious faction plotting your demise, one must be careful not to stray too far into tinfoil territory.
Ironically enough, ethnobotanist and psychedelic lecturer, Terence Mckenna, who had his own share of wayward ideas, put it quite eloquently when he said:
"Conspiracy theory is a kind of epistemological cartoon about reality. I mean isn't it so simple to believe that things are run by the Greys, or isn't it comforting to believe that the Jews are behind everything, or the communist party, or the Catholic Church or the Masons. I believe that the truth of the matter is far more terrifying that, the real Truth that dare not speak itself is that no one is in control."
Our current generations could use a good dose of Occam's razor among other sturdier ways of thinking. Lack of agency and not having a firm learned background or grasp of reality to fall back on can lead us astray.
We don't have to stop inquiring or wondering about the far-flung vistas of reality, we just need to do it with tact and some good old-fashioned logic.
How would the ability to genetically customize children change society? Sci-fi author Eugene Clark explores the future on our horizon in Volume I of the "Genetic Pressure" series.
- A new sci-fi book series called "Genetic Pressure" explores the scientific and moral implications of a world with a burgeoning designer baby industry.
- It's currently illegal to implant genetically edited human embryos in most nations, but designer babies may someday become widespread.
- While gene-editing technology could help humans eliminate genetic diseases, some in the scientific community fear it may also usher in a new era of eugenics.
Tribalism and discrimination<p>One question the "Genetic Pressure" series explores: What would tribalism and discrimination look like in a world with designer babies? As designer babies grow up, they could be noticeably different from other people, potentially being smarter, more attractive and healthier. This could breed resentment between the groups—as it does in the series.</p><p>"[Designer babies] slowly find that 'everyone else,' and even their own parents, becomes less and less tolerable," author Eugene Clark told Big Think. "Meanwhile, everyone else slowly feels threatened by the designer babies."</p><p>For example, one character in the series who was born a designer baby faces discrimination and harassment from "normal people"—they call her "soulless" and say she was "made in a factory," a "consumer product." </p><p>Would such divisions emerge in the real world? The answer may depend on who's able to afford designer baby services. If it's only the ultra-wealthy, then it's easy to imagine how being a designer baby could be seen by society as a kind of hyper-privilege, which designer babies would have to reckon with. </p><p>Even if people from all socioeconomic backgrounds can someday afford designer babies, people born designer babies may struggle with tough existential questions: Can they ever take full credit for things they achieve, or were they born with an unfair advantage? To what extent should they spend their lives helping the less fortunate? </p>
Sexuality dilemmas<p>Sexuality presents another set of thorny questions. If a designer baby industry someday allows people to optimize humans for attractiveness, designer babies could grow up to find themselves surrounded by ultra-attractive people. That may not sound like a big problem.</p><p>But consider that, if designer babies someday become the standard way to have children, there'd necessarily be a years-long gap in which only some people are having designer babies. Meanwhile, the rest of society would be having children the old-fashioned way. So, in terms of attractiveness, society could see increasingly apparent disparities in physical appearances between the two groups. "Normal people" could begin to seem increasingly ugly.</p><p>But ultra-attractive people who were born designer babies could face problems, too. One could be the loss of body image. </p><p>When designer babies grow up in the "Genetic Pressure" series, men look like all the other men, and women look like all the other women. This homogeneity of physical appearance occurs because parents of designer babies start following trends, all choosing similar traits for their children: tall, athletic build, olive skin, etc. </p><p>Sure, facial traits remain relatively unique, but everyone's more or less equally attractive. And this causes strange changes to sexual preferences.</p><p>"In a society of sexual equals, they start looking for other differentiators," he said, noting that violet-colored eyes become a rare trait that genetically engineered humans find especially attractive in the series.</p><p>But what about sexual relationships between genetically engineered humans and "normal" people? In the "Genetic Pressure" series, many "normal" people want to have kids with (or at least have sex with) genetically engineered humans. But a minority of engineered humans oppose breeding with "normal" people, and this leads to an ideology that considers engineered humans to be racially supreme. </p>
Regulating designer babies<p>On a policy level, there are many open questions about how governments might legislate a world with designer babies. But it's not totally new territory, considering the West's dark history of eugenics experiments.</p><p>In the 20th century, the U.S. conducted multiple eugenics programs, including immigration restrictions based on genetic inferiority and forced sterilizations. In 1927, for example, the Supreme Court ruled that forcibly sterilizing the mentally handicapped didn't violate the Constitution. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes wrote, "… three generations of imbeciles are enough." </p><p>After the Holocaust, eugenics programs became increasingly taboo and regulated in the U.S. (though some states continued forced sterilizations <a href="https://www.uvm.edu/~lkaelber/eugenics/" target="_blank">into the 1970s</a>). In recent years, some policymakers and scientists have expressed concerns about how gene-editing technologies could reanimate the eugenics nightmares of the 20th century. </p><p>Currently, the U.S. doesn't explicitly ban human germline genetic editing on the federal level, but a combination of laws effectively render it <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">illegal to implant a genetically modified embryo</a>. Part of the reason is that scientists still aren't sure of the unintended consequences of new gene-editing technologies. </p><p>But there are also concerns that these technologies could usher in a new era of eugenics. After all, the function of a designer baby industry, like the one in the "Genetic Pressure" series, wouldn't necessarily be limited to eliminating genetic diseases; it could also work to increase the occurrence of "desirable" traits. </p><p>If the industry did that, it'd effectively signal that the <em>opposites of those traits are undesirable. </em>As the International Bioethics Committee <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jlb/advance-article/doi/10.1093/jlb/lsaa006/5841599#204481018" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">wrote</a>, this would "jeopardize the inherent and therefore equal dignity of all human beings and renew eugenics, disguised as the fulfillment of the wish for a better, improved life."</p><p><em>"Genetic Pressure Volume I: Baby Steps"</em><em> by Eugene Clark is <a href="http://bigth.ink/38VhJn3" target="_blank">available now.</a></em></p>
The father of all giant sea bugs was recently discovered off the coast of Java.
- A new species of isopod with a resemblance to a certain Sith lord was just discovered.
- It is the first known giant isopod from the Indian Ocean.
- The finding extends the list of giant isopods even further.
The ocean depths are home to many creatures that some consider to be unnatural.<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yMzU2NzY4My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTUwMzg0NX0.BTK3zVeXxoduyvXfsvp4QH40_9POsrgca_W5CQpjVtw/img.png?width=980" id="b6fb0" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2739ec50d9f9a3bd0058f937b6d447ac" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1512" data-height="2224" />
What benefit does this find have for science? And is it as evil as it looks?<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="7XqcvwWp" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="8506fcd195866131efb93525ae42dec4"> <div id="botr_7XqcvwWp_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/7XqcvwWp-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/7XqcvwWp-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>The discovery of a new species is always a cause for celebration in zoology. That this is the discovery of an animal that inhabits the deeps of the sea, one of the least explored areas humans can get to, is the icing on the cake.</p><p>Helen Wong of the National University of Singapore, who co-authored the species' description, explained the importance of the discovery:</p><p>"The identification of this new species is an indication of just how little we know about the oceans. There is certainly more for us to explore in terms of biodiversity in the deep sea of our region." </p><p>The animal's visual similarity to Darth Vader is a result of its compound eyes and the curious shape of its <a href="https://lkcnhm.nus.edu.sg/research/sjades2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer dofollow" style="">head</a>. However, given the location of its discovery, the bottom of the remote seas, it may be associated with all manner of horrifically evil Elder Things and <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu" target="_blank" rel="dofollow">Great Old Ones</a>. <em></em></p>
We look back at a year ravaged by a global pandemic, economic downturn, political turmoil and the ever-worsening climate crisis.
Billions are at risk of missing out on the digital leap forward, as growing disparities challenge the social fabric.
Image: Global Risks Report 2021<h3>Widespread effects</h3><p>"The immediate human and economic costs of COVID-19 are severe," the report says. "They threaten to scale back years of progress on reducing global poverty and inequality and further damage social cohesion and global cooperation."</p><p>For those reasons, the pandemic demonstrates why infectious diseases hits the top of the impact list. Not only has COVID-19 led to widespread loss of life, it is holding back economic development in some of the poorest parts of the world, while amplifying wealth inequalities across the globe.</p><p>At the same time, there are concerns the fight against the pandemic is taking resources away from other critical health challenges - including a <a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/09/charts-covid19-malnutrition-educaion-mental-health-children-world/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">disruption to measles vaccination programmes</a>.</p>
A new study explains how a chaotic region just outside a black hole's event horizon might provide a virtually endless supply of energy.
- In 1969, the physicist Roger Penrose first proposed a way in which it might be possible to extract energy from a black hole.
- A new study builds upon similar ideas to describe how chaotic magnetic activity in the ergosphere of a black hole may produce vast amounts of energy, which could potentially be harvested.
- The findings suggest that, in the very distant future, it may be possible for a civilization to survive by harnessing the energy of a black hole rather than a star.
The ergosphere<p>The ergosphere is a region just outside a black hole's event horizon, the boundary of a black hole beyond which nothing, not even light, can escape. But light and matter just outside the event horizon, in the ergosphere, would also be affected by the immense gravity of the black hole. Objects in this zone would spin in the same direction as the black hole at incredibly fast speeds, similar to objects floating around the center of a whirlpool.</p><p>The Penrose process states, in simple terms, that an object could enter the ergosphere and break into two pieces. One piece would head toward the event horizon, swallowed by the black hole. But if the other piece managed to escape the ergosphere, it could emerge with more energy than it entered with.</p><p>The movie "Interstellar" provides an example of the Penrose process. Facing a fuel shortage on a deep-space mission, the crew makes a last-ditch effort to return home by entering the ergosphere of a blackhole, ditching part of their spacecraft, and "slingshotting" away from the black hole with vast amounts of energy.</p><p>In a recent study published in the American Physical Society's <a href="https://journals.aps.org/prd/abstract/10.1103/PhysRevD.103.023014" target="_blank" style="">Physical Review D</a><em>, </em>physicists Luca Comisso and Felipe A. Asenjo used similar ideas to describe another way energy could be extracted from a black hole. The idea centers on the magnetic fields of black holes.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Black holes are commonly surrounded by a hot 'soup' of plasma particles that carry a magnetic field," Comisso, a research scientist at Columbia University and lead study author, told <a href="https://news.columbia.edu/energy-particles-magnetic-fields-black-holes" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Columbia News</a>.</p>
Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration<p>While there might not be immediate applications for the theory, it could help scientists better understand and observe black holes. On an abstract level, the findings may expand the limits of what scientists imagine is possible in deep space.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Thousands or millions of years from now, humanity might be able to survive around a black hole without harnessing energy from stars," Comisso said. "It is essentially a technological problem. If we look at the physics, there is nothing that prevents it."</p>
A popular and longstanding wave of thought in psychology and psychotherapy is that diagnosis is not relevant for practitioners in those fields.