denkfest.ch

Yesterday, I attended denkfest.ch, “Four days of science, critical thinking & intelligent entertainment.”

The first event was a discussion about “skeptic blogging” where seven bloggers talked about what they do, where they get their ideas from and how they handle feedback.

For example, if you blog about a controversial topic like religion, you will get some heated feedback. The stance of the bloggers was that you won’t sway the die-hard believers. But a lot more people are just curious or want a second opinion. For those, “independent” blogs are a great help. I quote that because no one of us is really independent and that is something we all need to keep in mind.

There is a part of your brain which filters anything coming in through the senses long before the facts reach the consciousness. It’s easy to forget this since it’s so handy normally. Without it, it would be impossible to concentrate on something. While reading this text, you would have to listen to what the people next to you are talking about, how the seat below you feels like, or the clothes on your skin, what the air smells like and not to forget all those words on this page that you don’t want to read all at the same time – your eyes see all of them all the time, but the filtering makes sure that you can understand them one at a time.

In the Q&A session, someone said that the Internet became one of the most important tools in the Arabic world today. As many of you probably know, there were huge advances in science in Arabia while the Christians suppressed any free thought (6th to 15th century). Without those people,  astronomy, mathematics and chemistry wouldn’t be what they are today. We’d use Roman numerals instead of Arabic ones. Astrology would try to avoid launching probes to the moon lest we found “something”.

But religious fundamentalism led to a ban on thinking in the Arabic world. There was a comment that religion led to a lot of wars. That isn’t true. Greed and power lead to war, religion is just a handy tool in this context to rally emotions. Saying “we kill them because they are assholes/heretics/infidels” always gets better reception than saying “we kill them because they are more wealthy.” The latter is like saying “We’re too dumb to make a living, so let’s make someone else miserable, too.”

As Vince Ebert puts it, “if the Islamists were true to their belief, they’d attacked the Twin Towers not in air planes but with a battering ram.”

There was also some talk about what is religion and what is science.

I think religion is what you know for sure while science is what you know not. I tried to make this clear in a comment I gave in the Q&A session. When there is a light switch on the wall, the religious person tends to believe that it works while the scientist tries to come up with an experiment that proves that it doesn’t. While a religious person might flip the switch to “prove” that it works, a scientist will install sensors near the lamp and the switch to see if the time between flipping the switch and the reaction is always the same – someone else could operate the real switch. Or they’ll follow the wiring. They might influence the voltage on the wires to see if it’s the same on both ends to make sure this wire actually goes to the light bulb.

This might sound ridiculous but the problem with experiments is that they are only “true” as long as someone can’t prove them wrong. Einstein isn’t right, it’s just that so far no one could falsify his theory and since a lot of smart people tried, it’s probably a good theory in the sense that it’s resilient. Astrology wasn’t ever tried. No astrologer took a million people, followed them for years, noting down interesting events in their lives to see if there is a correlation to celestial “bodies” like the “houses” into which we are born. They always take each person individually, see “oh, here I was right, so my theory works” and they’re happy. If their theory fails, they don’t ask how they could conduct an experiment to verify anything, they just think “oh, well, outlier.”

Another good point by Lars Fischer: Most scientific publications are hard to understand. So if you don’t understand something, it’s probably scientific because the frauds try hard to make their lies easy to grasp.

Florian Freistetter has another summary of the event in his blog.

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