How to Filter Nonsense from Your Newsfeed—and Your Life
Your brain stops at the most comforting thought. The truth is somewhere beyond that. Using scientific skepticism as a guide, astrophysicist Lawrence Krauss outlines the questions that critical thinkers ask themselves.
Lawrence Maxwell Krauss is a Canadian-American theoretical physicist who is a professor of physics, and the author of several bestselling books, including The Physics of Star Trek and A Universe from Nothing. He is an advocate of scientific skepticism, science education, and the science of morality. Krauss is one of the few living physicists referred to by Scientific American as a "public intellectual", and he is the only physicist to have received awards from all three major U.S. physics societies: the American Physical Society, the American Association of Physics Teachers, and the American Institute of Physics.
LAWRENCE KRAUSS: One of my favorite quotes, which I've used in my writing, comes from the former publisher of The New York Times who said, "I'd like to keep an open mind, but not so open that my brains fall out." And that's the key point. We have to skeptically assess the information we receive, we can't be gullible because when we get a lot of information it's absolutely certain that some of that information is wrong and so we have to always filter what we get and we have to ask ourselves the following question: how open does my brain have to be to accept that information? Does it have to fall out? And by that I mean, when someone tells you something you have to ask: is this consistent with my experience? Is it consistent with the experience of other people around me? And if it isn't then probably there's a good reason to be skeptical about it—it's probably wrong. If it makes predictions that also appear to be in disagreement with things that you observe around you, you should question it. And so we should never take anything on faith. That's really the mantra of science, if you want, that faith is the enemy of science. We often talk about a loss of faith in the world today; you don't lose anything by losing faith. What you gain is reality.
And so skepticism plays a key role in science simply because we also are hardwired to want to believe, we're hardwired to want to find reasons for things. In the savanna in Africa, the trees could be rustling and you could choose to say, 'Well there's no reason for that,' or, 'Maybe it's due to a lion.' And those individuals who thought there might be no reason never lived long enough to survive to procreate, and so it's not too surprising we want to find explanations for everything and we create them if we need to, to satisfy ourselves, because we need to make sense of the world around us. And what we have to understand is, what makes sense to the universe is not the same as what makes sense to us and we can't impose our beliefs on the universe. And the way we get around that inherent bias is by constantly questioning both ourselves and all the information we receive from others. That's what we do in science and it works beautifully in the real world as well.
When you're presented with questions or answers about any problem there are a few questions you can ask yourself, that you should ask yourself right away. First of all, you can ask yourself, 'Do I like this answer?' And if you do you should be suspicious because you're much more likely to accept something that appeals to you whether it's right or not. So if you inherently like something in some sense that's a reason to be almost more suspicious of it, if you're a scientist. But then you can ask the question, when you're presented with information, is that information consistent with what I know already based on data I've taken about the world around me? And by data, it's not just scientists. If you're a child—all children do this—you put your hand in a flame, okay, the second time you know not to because you have the data that it hurt the first time. And if someone that tells you, 'That flame isn't going to hurt,' you have the data to assess that that's probably wrong. So you want to ask yourself: is that information consistent with what I know to be true already?
And the other thing to do, especially if you get information from a source you don't know, is to look at many different sources and compare them and see if they all agree. If they all agree it doesn't guarantee it's right but if there's vast disagreement between the different sources then it's highly likely that you can't at least rely on that information to be true. It's the same way science works: science doesn't prove what's absolutely true, what it does is prove what's absolutely false. What doesn't satisfy the test or experiment we throw out. What remains may not be true but we shrink it down, as Sherlock Holmes would say, and what remains after all of that is done is likely to be true. So many sources, question what you see and whether it's consistent with what you already know, and be suspicious of your own likes and dislikes when you accept information. That's probably the reason we shouldn't, when we turn it to the Internet, go to echo chambers and just read the sources that we like.
Now having said that, if you look at many sources you could also quickly decide which ones are not reliable and throw them out. If they're not reliable in one case then you should be highly suspicious of them in the future. So we all turn to different sources that we think are more or less reliable based on our past experience. Try that and I think it's one great way to filter out a lot of the nonsense on the Internet.When I talk about being skeptical it is important to recognize that you could be surprised and something that you don't think is sensible can end up being a sensible. That's the way we learn things in physics. So when someone presents you with an idea that may seem strange it's reasonable to be skeptical of it, but it's worth pursuing long enough to see if it might make sense and to listen to arguments that might be convincing that might cause you to change your mind. In fact there's a great school of pedagogy that says: the only way we actually learn anything is by confronting our own misconceptions. So once again, while it's reasonable to be skeptical of external information, if you're always skeptical of your response to information and what your misconceptions are and what your prejudices are, then you will both guide yourself not to accept nonsense but also you will be willing to realize that sometimes what you think is skepticism is really myopia.
Strange answers aren’t inherently wrong, and satisfying answers aren’t inherently right, says Lawrence Krauss in this critical thinking crash course. The astrophysicist explains how principles of scientific skepticism can be applied beyond the laboratory; it can be a filter for the nonsense and misinformation we encounter each and every day. Here, he establishes a handful of core questions that critical thinkers ask themselves, which can be used to challenge your misconceptions and sense of comfort, question inconsistency, and think past your brain's evolved biases. Piece by piece, you can systematically remove nonsense from your life. Lawrence Krauss' most recent book is The Greatest Story Ever Told -- So Far: Why Are We Here?
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What is human dignity? Here's a primer, told through 200 years of great essays, lectures, and novels.
- Human dignity means that each of our lives have an unimpeachable value simply because we are human, and therefore we are deserving of a baseline level of respect.
- That baseline requires more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose.
- We look at incredible writings from the last 200 years that illustrate the push for human dignity in regards to slavery, equality, communism, free speech and education.
The inherent worth of all human beings<p>Human dignity is the inherent worth of each individual human being. Recognizing human dignity means respecting human beings' special value—value that sets us apart from other animals; value that is intrinsic and cannot be lost.</p> <p>Liberalism—the broad political philosophy that organizes society around liberty, justice, and equality—is rooted in the idea of human dignity. Liberalism assumes each of our lives, plans, and preferences have some unimpeachable value, not because of any objective evaluation or contribution to a greater good, but simply because they belong to a human being. We are human, and therefore deserving of a baseline level of respect. </p> <p>Because so many of us take human dignity for granted—just a fact of our humanness—it's usually only when someone's dignity is ignored or violated that we feel compelled to talk about it. </p> <p>But human dignity means more than the absence of violence, discrimination, and authoritarianism. It means giving individuals the freedom to pursue their own happiness and purpose—a freedom that can be hampered by restrictive social institutions or the tyranny of the majority. The liberal ideal of the good society is not just peaceful but also pluralistic: It is a society in which we respect others' right to think and live differently than we do.</p>
From the 19th century to today<p>With <a href="https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?year_start=1800&year_end=2019&content=human+dignity&corpus=26&smoothing=3&direct_url=t1%3B%2Chuman%20dignity%3B%2Cc0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Google Books Ngram Viewer</a>, we can chart mentions of human dignity from 1800-2019.</p><img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg0ODU0My9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTUwMzE4MX0.bu0D_0uQuyNLyJjfRESNhu7twkJ5nxu8pQtfa1w3hZs/img.png?width=980" id="7ef38" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="9974c7bef3812fcb36858f325889e3c6" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
American novelist, writer, playwright, poet, essayist and civil rights activist James Baldwin at his home in Saint-Paul-de-Vence, southern France, on November 6, 1979.
Credit: Ralph Gatti/AFP via Getty Images
The future of dignity<p>Around the world, people are still working toward the full and equal recognition of human dignity. Every year, new speeches and writings help us understand what dignity is—not only what it looks like when dignity is violated but also what it looks like when dignity is honored. In his posthumous essay, Congressman Lewis wrote, "When historians pick up their pens to write the story of the 21st century, let them say that it was your generation who laid down the heavy burdens of hate at last and that peace finally triumphed over violence, aggression and war."</p> <p>The more we talk about human dignity, the better we understand it. And the sooner we can make progress toward a shared vision of peace, freedom, and mutual respect for all. </p>
Researchers dramatically improve the accuracy of a number that connects fundamental forces.
- A team of physicists carried out experiments to determine the precise value of the fine-structure constant.
- This pure number describes the strength of the electromagnetic forces between elementary particles.
- The scientists improved the accuracy of this measurement by 2.5 times.
The process for measuring the fine-structure constant involved a beam of light from a laser that caused an atom to recoil. The red and blue colors indicate the light wave's peaks and troughs, respectively.
Scientists at Washington University are patenting a new electrolyzer designed for frigid Martian water.
- Mars explorers will need more oxygen and hydrogen than they can carry to the Red Planet.
- Martian water may be able to provide these elements, but it is extremely salty water.
- The new method can pull oxygen and hydrogen for breathing and fuel from Martian brine.
The WashU electrolyzer<iframe src='https://mars.nasa.gov/layout/embed/model/?s=6' width='800' height='450' scrolling='no' frameborder='0' allowfullscreen></iframe><p>The WashU electrolyzer—it has no snappy acronym yet—will not be the first device capable of extracting oxygen from Martian water. That honor goes to the Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment, or <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/spacecraft/instruments/moxie/" target="_blank">MOXIE</a>, which is en route to Mars onboard NASA's <a href="https://mars.nasa.gov/mars2020/" target="_blank">Perseverance</a> rover. The rover was launched on July 30, 2020. It will arrive on February 18, 2021, and will perform high-temperature <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electrolysis_of_water" target="_blank">electrolysis</a> to extract pure oxygen, but no hydrogen.</p><p>In addition to being able to capture hydrogen, the WashU system can even do a better job with oxygen than MOXIE can, extracting 25 times as much from the same amount of water.</p><p>The new system has no problem with Mars' magnesium perchlorate-laced water. On the contrary, the researchers say it ultimately makes their system work better since such high concentrations of salt keep water from freezing on such a cold a planet by lowering the liquid's freezing temperature to -60 °C. He adds it may "also improve the performance of the electrolyzer system by lowering the electrical resistance."</p><p>Cold itself is no issue for the WashU system. It's been tested in a sub-zero (-33 ⁰F, or -36 ⁰C) environment that simulates Mars'.</p><p>"Our novel brine electrolyzer incorporates a lead <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0926337318311299" target="_blank">ruthenate pyrochlore</a> <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anode" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">anode</a> developed by our team in conjunction with a platinum on carbon <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cathode" target="_blank">cathode</a>," explains Ramani. He adds, "These carefully designed components coupled with the optimal use of traditional electrochemical engineering principles has yielded this high performance."</p>
Back home<p>"This technology is equally useful on Earth where it opens up the oceans as a viable oxygen and fuel source," Ramani notes. His colleagues forsee potential applications such as producing oxygen in deep-sea habitats with ample water available, such as underwater research facilities and submarines.</p><p>The study's joint first author Pralay Gayen says that "having demonstrated these electrolyzers under demanding Martian conditions, we intend to also deploy them under much milder conditions on Earth to utilize brackish or salt water feeds to produce hydrogen and oxygen, for example, through seawater electrolysis."</p>
Scientists find that bursts of gamma rays may exceed the speed of light and cause time-reversibility.
- Astrophysicists propose that gamma-ray bursts may exceed the speed of light.
- The superluminal jets may also be responsible for time-reversibility.
- The finding doesn't go against Einstein's theory because this effect happens in the jet medium not a vacuum.
Jet bursting out of a blazar. Black-hole-powered galaxies called blazars are the most common sources detected by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="cu2knVEk" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="c6cfd20fdf31c82cb206ade8ce21ba3f"> <div id="botr_cu2knVEk_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/cu2knVEk-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/cu2knVEk-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div>
Pfizer's vaccine needs to be kept at -100°F until it's administered. Can caregivers deliver?
- Fair distribution of the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines is especially challenging because they need to be stored at extremely cold temperatures.
- Back in 2018, the WHO reported that over half of all vaccines are wasted worldwide due to lack of cold storage, and they were only talking about vaccines that need to be chilled or kept at standard freezer temperatures.
- Real-time logistics data, location tracking, and information about movements are crucial to track shipment progress, product temperature and other conditions.