What have I changed my mind on?

Excellent question from Jerry Coyne’s website.

I’ll probably have to think about this further.

Sure, some attitudes and tastes have changed, and some of that has come from living a longer period of time. Though many of my attitudes have changed for the better, not all of them have. But I don’t think that this is what the question is about.

So here are some things:

1. Gays. There was time (early 1980’s) when I thought that homosexuals were bad people, just because, well, that is what a good person thought. Then in early 1982 I saw some gays at a party (the classical, skinny, effeminate, lisping type) and they hugged and kissed each other and sat on each other’s laps. My date (female) was bothered, but I wasn’ all. I suppose that I wasn’t bothered because I am not gay. My attitude was “oh…that’s it? Ok..” and I just didn’t care after that. That was kind of like a switch being flipped.

2. Evolution. I was a creationist as a grade school kid and, well, outgrew it. I didn’t understand speciation (why did one species “morph” into another?) and when the idea of “genetic error/mutations” was explained to me…it was all over.

3. Religion: devout Catholic, to agnostic, to a Richard Dawkins style atheist. The more I learned about science and how non-special the earth is….well, the idea of some deity that was concerned with human affairs just became laughably absurd to me. Oh sure, there could be some super grand creative force that our instruments haven’t detected (and possibly can’t), but that has nothing to do with the deities that were conjured up by earlier humans who knew next to nothing.

Note: this is not to say that there are no benefits to religion and religious practices (and of course, some severe liabilities). Yes, I still do yoga poses though I reject the “spiritual” stuff.

4. Science and statistical world view:

a. No, you cannot be “anything you want to be if only you work hard enough”. Genetics and opportunities matter. For example, there is nothing I could have done to have turned myself into an athlete. I didn’t have the correct genetics.

b. Statistics: I can’t tell you how much learning about concepts such as “outliers”, variances between groups and variances within groups have changed how I view the world. Yes, someone wins the lottery, but it won’t be you. Yes, with rare exceptions, you won’t be nearly as good as your dissertation advisor. Yes, we’ve read about that one student with a 19 ACT got an engineering degree…but not about the other 99 percent who didn’t have a chance.

c. Yes, I know; that “new result” that the mainstream media reports is probably wrong; it could be simple experimental error or just a false positive. I accept nothing unless we have a super tiny p-value or if we have replication..a lot of it.

5. Social: no, being a liberal doesn’t make you smart and being a conservative doesn’t make you dumb. And visa versa. I much rather talk to a smart conservative than a dumb (but sure of himself) liberal anyday.

6. Human behavior: I accept the hypothesis that much of our behavior is genetically driven. I really have rejected the “blank slate” hypothesis for people. Example: there appears to be evidence that some people are driven to exercise whereas others are not. Hence things like beginning running programs and exercise classes really do get some “off of the couch”, even if I needed no such extra support.

There is much more, but the above is a decent start.


May 3, 2016 - Posted by | social/political |

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