Thursday, July 28, 2022

Steven Pinker's "(ir)Rationality" in Defence of the Official Narrative

Harvard University professor, Steven Pinker, has been named by Time magazine, a publication with a history of CIA collaboration, as among "The 100 Most Influential People in the World Today." Foreign Policy, a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, a think tank founded to promote the Rhodes-Milner project for global empire, has named Professor Pinker a "100 Global Thinker." Pinker's new book, Rationality, which will be available in Canada next month, could be expected, therefore, to pack some punch. And pack a punch it does:  to the gut of any who would claim that the US Government has ever committed crimes to subvert democracy.

Notwithstanding its clear political objective, much of Rationality is taken up with puzzles and mind-benders. The Monty Hall prize-behind-one-of-three-doors problem.* for example, which distracted so many, even a famous mathematician, when first presented. And the Linda problem**, which, so it is implied, shows that most people are irrational, whereas, in fact, it merely shows that, in common speech, language is not used as those who devise SAT tests to identify candidates suitable for admission to Harvard University think it should be used.

All of this is perfectly harmless and pretty much useless except as a distraction for those with time to kill.  But then, in Chapter 10, "What's Wrong With People," the author announces the real point of his book. 
"This is the chapter most of you have been waiting for. I know this from conversations and correspondence. As soon as I mention the topic of rationality, people ask me why humanity appears to be losing its mind. 
At the time of this writing, a glorious milestone in the history of rationality is coming into view: vaccines likely to end a deadly plague are being administered less than a year after the plague emerged. Shortly before the announcement of the vaccines, a third of Americans said they would reject them." 
Which raises a question about the author's own rationality. The infection fatality rate of SARS-CoV-2, aka Covid19, the "deadly plague" of which Pinker speaks, has been known since 2020 to be around 0.25%, making it  little if any more "deadly" than the seasonal flu. Moreover, the development of Covid vaccines, this "glorious milestone in the history of rationality" did not, as it turns out, end a pandemic of what has proved to be much closer in severity to the common cold than to the Black Death. Rather it appears, Covid19 will be forever with us in ever more attenuated forms, its spread little impeded by vaccines, which as now emerges, have many severe side effects not excluding death***. And while the vaccines may be somewhat effective in reducing death from Covid19 (or not?), they have proved virtually useless in preventing Covid spread, as highlighted in the news this week that the twice vaccinated and double boosted President of the United States had just tested positive for Covid.

But let us not enter the quagmire of Covid debate, but proceed to Professor Pinker's more general task, which is to shred the credibility of any person impugning the integrity of government by, for example, questioning the official narrative about 9/11, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or the origin of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Thus, Professor Pinker writes of:
"the popularity of a miscellany of canards that the historian of science Michael Shermer calls "weird beliefs." Many people endorse conspiracy theories like Holocaust denial, Kennedy assassination plots, and the 911 "Truther" theory that the Twin Towers were felled by a controlled demolition to justify the American invasion of Iraq. ...

How can we explain this pandemic of poppycock?"
So did you ever question the official "pancake theory" that is supposed to explain the collapse of the Twin Towers into their own footprint at a speed close to the acceleration of gravity?

Did you ever wonder why New York Trade Center Building 7 collapsed into it's own footprint on 9-11 although it was not hit by an airplane?

Did you ever wonder how it was that a couple of guys looking remarkably like E. Howard Hunt and  Frank Sturgis (both members of Richard Nixon's infamous "Plumbers," who botched the Watergate burglary), happened to be photographed in Dealey Plaza immediately following the shooting of President John F. Kennedy? 

If so, then according to Pinker, you are a person who readily accepts as true what are merely unfounded rumours, which is to say "canards."

Furthermore, according to some Historian of Science that Pinker names, but of whom you have probably never heard, you are possessed of "weird beliefs" which is to say you are more or less a nut.

Even worse, you likely endorse Holocaust denial, in which case you are almost certainly an anti-Semite, which is to say the kind of person with no rightful place in decent society.

Indeed you are a carrier of an infectious mental disease in a "pandemic of poppycock," and should probably be put into isolation for life. Indeed, you are fit only for the loony bin. Unless, that is, you have been singled out for derision simply for declining to accept official narratives without question. For example, George W Bush's claim that:
"Nobody, certainly not in this administration, thought about people flying airplanes into buildings," 
although that is precisely what one FBI supervisor in Minneapolis feared, reporting to FBI Headquarters concerning the 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, that he was "trying to keep someone from taking a plane and crashing into the World Trade Center."

And as to Pinker's derision of those who adhere to the 911 "Truther" theory that the Twin Towers were felled by a controlled demolition, one would do well to consider the collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which collapsed into its own footprint on 9/11 without being hit by a plane. And, in fact, we know for certain that World Trade Center Building 7 was brought down by controlled demolition because the World Trade Center leaseholder, Larry Silverstein, publicly stated as much.
"I remember getting a call from the Fire Department Commander telling me they were not sure they were going to be able to contain the fire, and I said you know we have had such terrible loss of life maybe the smartest thing to do is to pull it. And they made that decision to pull and then we watched the building collapse."

          

Thing is, you don't just "pull" a building on the spur of the moment. Explosive charges have to be placed at many critical points throughout the building and wired for simultaneous detonation so that all supporting structures are disrupted simultaneously and the building goes into free fall, the entire structure fragmenting on impact with the ground. Such an operation requires more than a few minutes to prepare: it requires days to plan and execute. 

The implication is clear: Building 7 was wired for a controlled demolition prior to 9/11. 

And if Building 7 was wired for a controlled demolition prior to 9/11, why not the Twin Towers also?

There are also questions that a reasonable person may ask about the Warren Commission's conclusion that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone in the assassination of President Kennedy, i.e., that there was no assassination "plot," an assumption that Professor Pinker treats as a self-evident truth. 

Oswald, so the Commission concluded, was located in a "sniper's nest" on the sixth floor of the Texas School Book Depository building in Dealey Plaza, Dallas, Texas, on November 22, 1963, as the President's party was driven by in an open car. At a range of more than 240 feet, Oswald, so the Commission inferred, fired multiple shots with his World War I vintage, Italian army-surplus rifle, hitting the president first in the back of the neck, then fatally, in the head. 

Many questions have been raised about this conclusion, but its validity rests on the assumption that all shots fired that day were fired from behind the Presidential limousine, which is to say from the where, according to the Warren Commission, Lee Harvey Oswald fired the fatal bullet.

But the surgeons who operated on the President in an attempt to save his life, Dr. Malcolm Perry, assisted by Dr. Robert McClelland, believed, based on their observation of the President's wounds, that the President had been hit, not from the back, but from the front. 

Thus at a press conference at Parklands hospital later that day, Assistant Press Secretary, Malcolm Kilduff, after announcing the President's death, stated that the fatal head shot had been from the front. This was also the belief of a third Parklands Hospital surgeon, Dr. Charles Crenshaw who helped place the deceased President in a coffin:
"... he was wrapped in a sheet and we placed him in a coffin, but before we did, I looked at the wound again. I wanted to know and remember this the rest of my life, and the rest of my life I will always know he was shot from the front. 

I never talked to the Warren Commission ... the bullet struck here (pointing to his forehead) taking out a piece of the occipital bone (which is at the back of the skull) the size of the palm of your hand."

Asked his reaction to seeing sketches  taken from the Kennedy autopsy conducted at the Naval Hospital at Bethesda, MD, along with an official explanation that the wounds were from bullets fired only from behind the Presidential limousine, Dr. Crenshaw said:

"It was beyond disbelief. I could not believe that a real pathologist would put out something this poorly." 

Asked if the autopsy report was fraudulent, Dr. Crenshaw responded: 

"I say that it was wrongly done ... maybe they were directed to do it that way." 

          

And beside the judgement of the surgeons attending on the stricken president, there is acoustic evidence that negates the Warren Commission's lone gunman hypothesis:

"In 1978, at the request of the House Select Committee on Assassinations (HSCA), Bolt, Beranek and Newman, Inc., studied recordings of police radio and traffic during the assassination, and Mark R. Weiss and Ernest Aschkenasy, Queens College, City University of New York, conducted an independent analysis of the alleged third gunshot recorded on the Dallas Police Department radio system. Based primarily on the acoustical analyses performed by BBN and Weiss and Aschkenasy indicating that there were gunshots in Dealey Plaza from both the Texas School Book Depository building (where Lee Harvey Oswald allegedly fired three gunshots) and the grassy knoll area (one gunshot) during Kennedy's assassination, the HSCA found, in part, that 'scientific acoustical evidence establishes a high probability that two gunmen fired at President John F Kennedy."

But according to Professor Pinker, members of the House Select Committee on Assassinations were merely holders of "weird beliefs," victims of a pandemic mental disease whose opinion should be disregarded.

But such a contention, far from being rational, is obviously absurd. So what underlies such irrationality and what are its implications?

One possible explanation of Pinker's attempt to paint rational scepticism as irrational, is that education at a top American private university is expensive. Including the prior cost of 12 years at a private prep school, a Harvard degree must cost one or several million dollars. For that, parents expect their progeny to gain a firm footing on ladders of social and career success. But those who control the upper rungs of social and career ladders have no inclination to give a leg up to those who question the intentions of the ruling elite. That being so, there is a certain logic to Professor Pinker's view that learning to accept the official narrative, however, improbably or inconsistent with the evidence, is essential to a "good" education.

There is, however, a massive downside to this concept of education. The readiness to question authority is essential to the scientific spirit. The acceptance, and even enforcement, of conformism at the modern Western university thus heralds a new dark age in the world of learning. 

Notes

* The Monty Hall challenge

The challenge for the contestant is to win a prize by guessing behind which of three doors the prize, a new car or some such thing, lies. After the contestant picks a door, the show host opens one of the two remaining doors to reveal no prize there concealed. Then the host asks the contestant whether they would like to abandon their initial choice and go for the other unopened door. 

To decide how the contestant should respond so as to maximize their chance of winning the prize, one must note that initially, the chance of the prize being behind any door is exactly one third. That means that, having chosen one of three doors,  there is a two-thirds probability that the prize is behind one of the unchosen doors. But then the show host opens one of the unchosen doors, taking care not to open the door behind which the prize is hidden if it is not hidden by the contestant's initial door of choice.

But the show host's opening of one of the unchosen doors does not alter the two-thirds probability of the prize being behind one of the unchosen doors. Therefore, since the prize is not behind the door opened by the show host, the odds of it being behind the other unchosen door must be two-thirds, which is twice the odds of it being behind the door initially chosen by the contestant. That means the contestant can double their chance of winning the prize by accepting the show host's invitation to change their choice to the other unopened door, an option show contestants were generally reluctant to accept. 


** The Linda Problem

Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations. Which is more probable?

    (1) Linda is a bank teller.
    (2) Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

Most people, more than 80 percent, choose Option (2), which means, so Professor Pinker informs us, that they have fallen for the "disjunction fallacy." The reality, however, is simply that most people, even qualified statisticians, do not see the Linda Problem as a problem in combining probabilities. Rather, they see it as a question about Linda. And if they think that Linda is a feminist, the only way they can indicate that is by checking Option (2). But according to Pinker, that commits them to the belief that "Linda is a bank teller." But they almost certainly don't believe that, which is why they didn't check Option (1). So now, according to Pinker, they have contradicted themselves. But in reality, they've just done the best they can in response to a dumb question, a view Ludwig Wittgenstein would surely have endorsed.

Other, more elaborate and less probable justifications for the most common response to the Linda problem are provided by Berit Brogaard D.M.Sci., Ph.D.: Linda the Bank Teller' Case Revisited, and W. S. Messer and R. A. Griggs: Another look at Linda.

*** Vaccine effectiveness

Hundreds of articles dismissing ‘conspiracy theories’ read like they follow a single script (Books too)

6 comments:

  1. I've been shocked by Dr. Pinker's arrogance every time I've read ANYTHING by him. (I don't read anything by him anymore.) I'm pretty sure he would be diagnosed as a pathological narcissist.

    I immediately distrust anyone who identifies themself with "rationality". Honestly I think this confirms they are irrational and lack self reflection and insight.

    “Men are so inevitably mad that not to be mad would be to give a mad twist to madness.”--Blaise Pascal

    Pinker has given a mad twist to madness, and in my opinion proclaims his madness, here:

    "At the time of this writing, a glorious milestone in the history of rationality is coming into view: vaccines likely to end a deadly plague are being administered less than a year after the plague emerged."

    Maybe I'm subject to the disjunction fallacy or some other form of irrationality, but stamp me down and beat me up if we don't already know the vaccines are not going to "end the plague". The straight fact of the matter is the vaccines do not prevent transmissivity. The straight fact is the virus mutates more rapidly than vaccines can be developed and administered.

    Who is committing a disjunction fallacy here? Help me. I note Pinker says,
    "vaccines likely to end". So now when the plague hasn't been ended by the vaccines, Pinker could defend himself by saying "well, I qualified my statement with the word "likely". What's transpired is the unlikely." Yet can we describe the development of a vaccine only "likely" to work as a glorious milestone in the history of rationality?

    The rapid development was justified by the pandemic being considered an emergency. The risk of using a completely new technology was justified similarly. In other words, to some degree "rationality" was set aside in an act of desperation. I believe Pascal would have some words to say about this, too. I have quibble, also, if science, is best described as "rational". I certainly do not believe anything science develops is automatically "rational", either. The atom bomb-- is that rational?







    (Pinker used to write about

    He is simply not as smart as he believes himself to be, nor are other people so stupid as he believes them to be. He refuses to acknowledge anyone else might have a point. Or, he might maybe just not be in possession of the entire truth. It doesn't occur to him.

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    1. Your analysis is excellent, much better than mine.

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  2. Oops, I forgot those last comments were still there.

    We're talking about that infernal institution again, the elite, private university.

    Offered the opportunity, I would love to have attended Harvard. I even think Bill Gates's dropping out is another sign he's nuts and mediocre. (Not genuinely enticed by the life of the mind.)

    In the case of Harvard, part of what's difficult to figure out is whether it is genuinely primarily an educational institution. It seems to have many other functions, and putting out propaganda and being able to pronounce and dictate who is smart and who is stupid, with such unquestioned authority, is part of its propaganda function.

    That NYT photograph of Bill Gates with Jeffrey Epstein. Did you notice the esteemed Lawrence Summers, former Sec. of the Treasury, and at that time President of Harvard University, is also in the picture? It pisses me off. A lot of the favorable PR about how great Jeffrey Epstein's charitable work was, came from Harvard University-- bearing the Harvard University imprimatur. (Epstein was at that time a convicted pedophile, to boot.) Imagine the value of this to a grifter such as Epstein. We don't seem to be deflected by Harvard's track record from our worship and adoration of it.

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    1. Many years ago, during a banking crisis in London, some people were bailed out by the big banks, others were not. When asked about this, a banker explained that so and so was not bailed out because they had not been at Eton.

      Harvard serves the same function as Eton. It brings the children of the rich and powerful together, thereby providing the friendships that will be useful to them as they climb the social and career ladders.

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  3. I can't put my finger on it, but there is something about Bill Gates. Have you seen this?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J-yICEa9K1A

    There is so much worthy of comment and criticism in what Bill says in these 3.43 minutes. Maybe what it boils down to is Bill is aware he has become one of the most despised people on planet earth. He probably figured he was going to become one of the most admired people on planet earth through this ploy.

    I recall him chuckling with Melissa and saying, "Maybe they'll listen to us next time." I didn't know it at the time, but Melissa had already initiated divorce proceedings.

    "We never tried the combination of a pandemic and social media." Ha ha ha. "We figured we had complete control of all media (including social media-- and actually social media was carefully controlled to the full extent possible, as well you know) but somehow those not under mind control or censorship managed to break through with their message-- which turned out to be more powerful and popular than ours."

    "No one could have predicted Faux-sick and I would be linked with blah blah blah." Wow is that true. I never would have predicted it in a million years. I wasn't even thinking of either Gates or Faux-sick AT ALL in 2019 and early 2020. Yet this doesn't mean Gates and Faux-sick didn't carefully contrive, script, and plan their sudden elevation to "top of the pops". They went to "top of the pops" exactly as they'd wished...It did not play out as they wished, though.

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    1. Poor Bill. He's just repellant: his physical presence, his body language, his cracked voice. Furthermore, he is hardly articulate, and he lies in crass and obvious ways, e.g., about the effectiveness of the vaccine in stopping the spread. The more air time he gets the better people will learn to hate him.

      He's like J.D. Rockefeller, a one-time richest man in the world, who was so unpopular that he hired PR men to tell him how to improve his public image. On their advice he carried a pocket-full of silver dimes to throw out for street urchins to fight over.

      Maybe Billy boy could do something similar, casting into the wind thousand dollar bills, or Microsoft share certificates.

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