from the world's big
Psychology toolbox: How to use skepticism
Derren Brown began his UK television career in December 2000 with a series of specials called Mind Control. In the UK, his name is now pretty much synonymous with the art of psychological manipulation. Amongst a varied and notorious TV career, Derren has played Russian Roulette live, convinced middle-managers to commit armed robbery, led the nation in a séance, stuck viewers at home to their sofas, successfully predicted the National Lottery, motivated a shy man to land a packed passenger plane at 30,000 feet, hypnotised a man to assassinate Stephen Fry, and created a zombie apocalypse for an unsuspecting participant after seemingly ending the world. He has also written several best-selling books and has toured with eight sell-out one-man stage shows.
DERREN BROWN: Magic is a great analogy for how we process the world, generally. So, we have this infinite data source coming at us, there's an infinite number of things that we can think about, but we essentially make up a story about what we're seeing. We edit and delete and we form a narrative and we mistake that narrative for the truth. The way you watch a magic trick of any sort and edit your experience to form a story that brings you to a point of going "oh my god that's impossible" is what we do every day in real life, and we have to because it's our only way of navigating forward. But it's important to remember sometimes that it is just a story that there's a lot of stuff going on that we're not aware of. And, of course, a magician doing a trick is exploiting exactly that process the fact that we are master editors.
So I am encouraging a form of skepticism, but I do think that the broad easy skepticism of the magician or the atheist, I'm an atheist, but I think that both of those camps have it too easy. So, there are things I think that are important skeptically and then there's also important checks on the very nature of skepticism. Particularly in the world of people making claims, grand claims, which is what I, as somebody rooted in magic come across a lot. An important point that I guess goes back to Hume, which is that extraordinary claims demand extraordinary evidence. So, if somebody is making a grand claim, a supernatural claim, for example, it's going to be up to them to come up with equally strong and impressive and grand evidence for that thing. As opposed to it's up to the other person, say you, to disapprove it, which is often what they say, well you can't disprove it. If I say I've got a green mouse living in my house and I expect you to believe that, it's not your job to prove that I don't have a green mouse by looking in every corner of my house because you could always miss the mouse, it's up to me to show you it. If I'm going to show you a photograph of it it has got to be a proper picture not a doctored picture and so on. So, what you have a lot of is evidence that isn't real evidence.
So, for example, a psychic medium using say her very demonstration of doing it as proof of psychic mediumship, well that's no more valid than if a magician saws a woman in half and says "well here's proof that I'm doing it. Look I'm sawing her in half." Well, that's not proof. Proof would be okay do it with my saw, do it with my box, do it with my woman as opposed to your assistant, and do it under some kind of controlled conditions and then maybe I'll believe it. You create conditions that everyone agrees on and then it becomes evidence. I think that just in terms of understanding not getting too caught up in other people's stories and other people's narratives and falling for them, that reserve of skepticism is important. And when it's your job to disprove and when it isn't that's important, particularly in a world full of charlatans and people trying to get us to believe what they want. But it's very difficult because it's very hard to know what information sources to trust, and that's just part of the world we live in now and it's dizzying and depressing knowing where you can start. But at least you can do your best, you can try and work authentically by spotting your own biases and understanding as much as you can the biases of others.
Where I think skepticism, in its broad modern popular sense of just don't believe in God, don't believe in this, don't believe in that, where I think it has its limits, and I speak very much as a skeptic myself and as an atheist as I said, where it is important to realize the edges of its usefulness is where those things that may not be objectively true but can be psychologically "true," in other words psychologically resonant to the path of living and what we take in life and what's important to us and what's helpful. So that's what you don't want to throw out, you don't want to throw out that baby with the bathwater. So, in religion for example, those things that are easily knocked down if you're an atheist, they're easy to kind of make fun of and disapprove, those things are also they're kind of often are strawman to knock down but they can often be pointers back to something that is psychologically useful. They're signifiers of something. If you take what happens with religion is that you have something that happens, an experience of transcendence or a kind of thing that happened historically, nothing magical or supernatural but just for people at that time a connection to a sense of the transcendent whatever that was, a message or something and then as that moves out of living memory to recreate it a bunch of practices and dogmas and things are formed to try and recreate that feeling. And that becomes now a thing of belief rather than a sort of knowledge that it was at the time. And then to sustain and protect that belief an institution is sort of created and developed and becomes politicized and powerful and monetized and all of those things and then it moves into a world where we are nowadays where things have to be sort of proved with evidence so it starts to try and come up with evidential arguments that somehow never quite really work. So, you do end up with a thing that's easy to knock down, but that can miss the fact that there's something at the heart of it, which maybe is useful. Maybe those narratives around religion are useful to us psychologically, maybe they have an archetypal or a mythological use that it would be a shame to dismiss because we feel the absence of those things.
It's the very fact we turn to psychics and fortune tellers and become terrified and lonely around death. Those things happen because we've lost touch with some of those myths and some of those more resonant narratives. So, I am I think being a little skeptical about skepticism itself and the easy narratives that it forms is also I think very useful.
- Psychological illusionist Derren Brown presents magic as an analogy for how we process the world around us. In the same way we believe in a trick by forming a narrative around it, we can tell ourselves stories in life.
- It's important to maintain a sense of skepticism. But it's equally as important to recognize the edges of usefulness in being skeptical.
- For example, an atheist can be skeptical of religion while still admitting that the narratives around religion might be valuable and psychologically useful.
Derren Brown returns to the stage with his new live, one-man show, Showman. Check it out here.
- AI gets overhyped. Here's why you should be skeptical. - Big Think ›
- On Skeptical Sexism and Comfort Levels - Big Think ›
Join multiple Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress Judith Light live on Big Think at 2 pm ET on Monday.
Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.
- A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
- Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
- Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
A pile of recycled cardboard sits on the ground at Recology's Recycle Central on January 4, 2018 in San Francisco, California.
Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images<p>A large part of the reason is speed. In a competitive market, pure players use the equation, <em>speed + convenience</em>, to drive adoption. This is especially relevant to the "last mile" GHG footprint: the distance between the distribution center and the consumer.</p><p>Interestingly, the smallest GHG footprint occurs when you order directly from a physical store—even smaller than going there yourself. Pure players, such as Amazon, are the greatest offenders. Variables like geographic location matter; the team looked at shopping in the UK, the US, China, and the Netherlands. </p><p>Sadegh Shahmohammadi, a PhD student at the Netherlands' Radboud University and corresponding author of the paper, <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/26/tech/greenhouse-gas-emissions-retail/index.html" target="_blank">says</a> the above "pattern holds true in countries where people mostly drive. It really depends on the country and consumer behavior there."</p><p>The researchers write that this year-and-a-half long study pushes back on previous research that claims online shopping to be better in terms of GHG footprints.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"They have, however, compared the GHG emissions per shopping event and did not consider the link between the retail channels and the basket size, which leads to a different conclusion than that of the current study."</p><p>Online retail is where convenience trumps environment: people tend to order one item at a time when shopping on pure player sites, whereas they stock up on multiple items when visiting a store. Consumers will sometimes order a number of separate items over the course of a week rather than making one trip to purchase everything they need. </p><p>While greening efforts by online retailers are important, until a shift in consumer attitude changes, the current carbon footprint will be a hard obstacle to overcome. Amazon is trying to have it both ways—carbon-free and convenience addicted—and the math isn't adding up. If you need to order things, do it online, but try to consolidate your purchases as much as possible.</p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a>, <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank">Facebook</a> and <a href="https://derekberes.substack.com/" target="_blank">Substack</a>. His next book is</em> "<em>Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy."</em></p>
Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.
A time for sleep<div class="rm-shortcode" data-media_id="Mt29uUqI" data-player_id="FvQKszTI" data-rm-shortcode-id="931343dee3c02121445e51e94ba22446"> <div id="botr_Mt29uUqI_FvQKszTI_div" class="jwplayer-media" data-jwplayer-video-src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"> <img src="https://cdn.jwplayer.com/thumbs/Mt29uUqI-1920.jpg" class="jwplayer-media-preview" /> </div> <script src="https://content.jwplatform.com/players/Mt29uUqI-FvQKszTI.js"></script> </div> <p>Previous studies had already suggested a link between persistent nightmares in childhood and psychosis and borderline personality disorder (BPD) by adolescence, but researchers at the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology wanted to see if a similar connection existed between these mental disorders and other childhood behavioral sleep problems.</p><p>To do this, they scoured data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, a longitudinal cohort study that followed approximately 14,000 children born in Avon, England, in the early 1990s. The study followed the children for more than 13 years. During that time, mothers filled out questionnaires asking about the children's lives. Factors looked at included housing, parenting, nutrition, physical health, mental wellbeing, environmental exposures, and so on. </p><p>The cohort study inquired about sleep routines, sleep duration, and awakening frequency when the children were 6, 18, and 30 months old, and then again at 3.5, 4.8, and 5.8 years. It also assessed mental health in adolescence using semi-structured interviews, such as the Psychosis-Like Symptom Interview.</p><p>"We know that adolescence is a key developmental period to study the onset of many mental disorders, including psychosis or BPD. This is because of particular brain and hormonal changes which occur at this stage," <a href="https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/staff/profiles/psychology/marwaha-steven.aspx" target="_blank">Steven Marwaha</a>, professor of psychiatry at Birmingham and senior author on the study, <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/07/200701125431.htm" target="_blank">said in a release</a>. "Sleep may be one of the most important underlying factors—and it's one that we can influence with effective, early interventions, so it's important that we understand these links."</p><p>After compiling the data, the researchers discovered an association between children with irregular sleeping patterns and teenagers with <a href="https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/psychosis/about-psychosis/" target="_blank">psychotic experiences</a>—that is, episodes when the person perceives reality differently than those around them. Even when depression at 10 years old was considered as a mediating factor, their findings still suggested "a specific pathway between these childhood sleep problems and adolescent psychotic experiences." </p><p>Toddlers with shorter nighttime sleep duration and late bedtimes were likewise associated with a <a href="https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/borderline-personality-disorder/index.shtml" target="_blank">borderline personality disorder</a>—a disorder marked by a pattern of varying moods, self-images, and behaviors—in their teenage years. Depression at age 10 did not mediate this particular association, suggesting a separate and more specific pathway. </p>
A more restful tomorrow<p>While the sample size was large and mental health was assessed with a validated interview, there nevertheless remain limitations to this data. For starters, sleep habits were based on mothers' reports. Because they came from memory, versus a more direct observation method such as actigraphy, these data may be prone to imperfect recollection and reporting error. There are also many confounders that could be secretly nudging the results, such as family conditions, prenatal medicines, and a host of environmental factors. Finally, <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6024884/#:~:text=Sleep%20difficulties%20in%20youth%20with,fear%20of%20dark%20%5B13%5D." target="_blank">the relationship between sleep problems and mental disorders</a> is both complex and two-way.</p><p>As such, the study shows an association between poor childhood sleep later mental disorders but does not prove a causal link. Parents need not worry that a string of nightmares or the eternal struggle settle into bed will be the first ingredients in a witches' brew of debilitating mental disorders. The goal of the study, the researchers point out, is not to create undue worry but improve our ability to recognize the signs of at-risk children and deliver necessary interventions earlier.</p><p>"The results of this study could have important implications for helping practitioners identify children who might be at higher risk for psychotic experiences or BPD symptoms in adolescence, and potentially lead to the design of more effectively targeted sleep or psychological interventions to prevent the onset or attenuate these mental disorders," Isabel Morales-Muñoz, the study's lead researcher, <a href="https://www.healio.com/news/psychiatry/20200702/childhood-sleep-problems-linked-to-adolescent-psychosis-borderline-personality-disorder#:~:text=Sleep%20problems%20during%20early%20childhood,study%20published%20in%20JAMA%20Psychiatry." target="_blank">told Healio Psychiatry</a><u>.</u></p><p>If a parent reading this is worried that their child's sleep patterns are deleterious, the take away should not be despair over an unyielding fate. It should be to seek professional help as soon as possible to begin improving sleep duration and quality. Even if you aren't worried, it's worth remembering that childhood experiences lay the foundation for a lifetime of salubrious sleeping habits. It's so much more than beauty rest.</p>
Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.
- The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
- The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
- It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
The Red Sea area where Neom will be built:
Saudi Arabia Plans Futuristic City, "Neom" (Full Promotional Video)<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c646d528d230c1bf66c75422bc4ccf6f"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/N53DzL3_BHA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Are we genetically inclined for superstition or just fearful of the truth?
- From secret societies to faked moon landings, one thing that humanity seems to have an endless supply of is conspiracy theories. In this compilation, physicist Michio Kaku, science communicator Bill Nye, psychologist Sarah Rose Cavanagh, skeptic Michael Shermer, and actor and playwright John Cameron Mitchell consider the nature of truth and why some groups believe the things they do.
- "I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking," argues Kaku. The theoretical physicist says that science goes against "natural thinking," and that the superstition gene persists because, one out of ten times, it actually worked and saved us.
- Other theories shared include the idea of cognitive dissonance, the dangerous power of fear to inhibit critical thinking, and Hollywood's romanticization of conspiracies. Because conspiracy theories are so diverse and multifaceted, combating them has not been an easy task for science.