40 years ago today, Apollo 11 launched from the Kennedy Space Center to make its journey to the Moon. It marked the beginning of a journey that was the culmination of hundreds of thousands of peoples’ work and passion. I wish I was alive to see the launch and landing. It’s amazing to me that the missions to the Moon still evoke awe and wonder in us. It seems we could use a worldwide jolt of awe and wonder now. Check out this site: We Choose the Moon. It recreates the Apollo 11 mission in real time. Very cool.
My father used to say that he could never argue with his mother because, “Mom had her opinions and she wouldn’t let the facts get in the way.” This article by Robert Burton on Salon.com sheds some fascinating light on the psychology of decision-making and voting. In “My Candidate, Myself,” Burton writes:
In the current presidential election, a major percentage of voters are already committed to “their candidate”; new arguments and evidence fall on deaf ears. And yet, if we, as a country, truly want change, we must be open-minded, flexible and willing to revise our opinions when new evidence warrants it. Most important, we must be able to recognize and acknowledge when we are wrong.
Unfortunately, cognitive science offers some fairly sobering observations about our ability to judge ourselves and others….
Closely allied with this unshakable self-confidence in one’s decisions is a second separate aspect of meta-cognition, the feeling of being right….
The evidence is substantial that these feelings do not correlate with the accuracy or quality of the thought….
Feelings of absolute certainty and utter conviction are not rational deliberate conclusions; they are involuntary mental sensations generated by the brain. Like other powerful mental states such as love, anger and fear, they are extraordinarily difficult to dislodge through rational arguments. Just as it’s nearly impossible to reason with someone who’s enraged and combative, refuting or diminishing one’s sense of certainty is extraordinarily difficult. Certainty is neither created by nor dispelled by reason.
To a certain extent, we all engage in individual-groupthink, to coin a new phrase. After we make our conclusions, we discount contrary evidence while overvaluing evidence that affirms our assumptions. In my opinion, last Friday’s presidential debate seemed fairly even in that neither John McCain nor Barack Obama shot himself in the foot. Similarly, neither candidate performed head and shoulders above the other. But in seeing the polls afterward, people generally thought their candidate won the debate. Now, I am leaning a certain direction and have been for months. I will say that I found myself excusing certain errors or disagreements I have with him, while I railed against his opponent when he said something I didn’t like. My mind was made up, which to a large extent is fine, so long as I remain open to new information.
So what does Burton want from a president?
I want a president aware of how his mind works, as well as what he suspects are his inborn biases and intellectual limitations. Ironically, the acknowledgment of intellectual limitations may be the best evidence for superior decision-making skills. Contrary to George Bush’s belief, we do not want certainty in the White House. We want flexibility and an acknowledgment that certainty is often a sign of ignorance.
Unfortunately, sound bites, TV interviews and presidential debates often fail to reveal the candidates’ real thought processes—how each would approach a new or complex problem for which he or she doesn’t already have a pat answer.
Burton’s article is certainly helpful in forcing us to look at our assumptions and decisions and reminding us that it takes hard work to remain open to new information and evidence. He puts a bit too much stock in cold, objective reasoning and empirical evidence as the most basic and most commonly held means of knowing whether something is true or not—I think he tends to discount spiritual phenomena. Those of the more Republican persuasion may not like the tack Burton takes in the last quarter of the piece. But Burton’s article should make us aware of our biases as we enter the home stretch of this election cycle (finally) and as we listen to our candidates and their opponents. Abraham Lincoln described our instincts well when he said, “People who like this sort of thing will find this the sort of thing they like.”
I saw this quotation on a Starbucks cup a while back and thought it was worth posting.
The Way I See it #289
So called “global warming” is just a secret ploy by wacko treehuggers to make America energy independent, clean our air and water, improve the fuel efficiency of our vehicles, kick-start 21st-century industries, and make our cities safer and more livable. Don’t let them get away with it!
-Chip Giller, founder of grist.org, where environmentally minded people gather online.
Before going to sleep, Carey and I set an alarm for 2:45am so we could get up and see the full lunar eclipse this morning. The Moon was nearly full and provided a wonderful show. Given all the light pollution that comes with having 10 million neighbors, it was one of the few astronomical phenomena we can appreciate within the city. Did you get a chance to see the eclipse?
This story and picture about physicist Stephen Hawking taking a zero-G flight made me smile.
Given the predicted value of stem cells as well as the heated ethical debate behind them, I’m surprised that this story isn’t all over the front pages: “Report: Amniotic Fluid Yields Stem Cells.”
Researchers at Wake Forest University and Harvard University reported Sunday that the stem cells they drew from amniotic fluid donated by pregnant women hold much the same promise as embryonic stem cells.
They reported they were able to extract the stem cells from the fluid, which cushions babies in the womb, without harm to mother or fetus and turn their discovery into several different tissue cell types, including brain, liver and bone.
From the World AIDS Day website facts page:
Internationally, 40 million people live with HIV worldwide and with only 8% of people with the virus in developing countries having access to treatment there were 3 million deaths in 2005. However, unprecedented top-level agreements since 2000, (UNGASS, Africa Commission, G8) and the roll out of treatment to 1.3 million people in developing countries have been important steps forward.
A while back Carey and I saw an episode of the PBS show Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason. In it Moyers interviewed novelist Salman Rushdie and it was one of the most interesting exchanges I had seen in a long time. Rushdie, an avowed atheist who strongly defends the freedom of speech offers several challenging ideas. As a religious person, I found Rushdie’s opinions surprising and hopeful. I recommend the interview highly, especially for those interested in the role of faith in the public sphere. I don’t necessarily agree with Rushdie on all points, but he is engaging on nearly every topic. You can watch the interview here. I watched other interviews online and also recommend the interview with Sir John Houghton, a well-respected scientist who discusses how he sees his Christian faith and scientific pursuits as compatible. That interview can be seen here. The interviews are about an hour each and I think show why we benefit from public television since I can’t think of another television venue where such conversations would be given the depth and time they find here.
The Los Angeles Times reports, “King/Drew Fails Final U.S. Test.”
Federal regulators notified Martin Luther King Jr./Drew Medical Center late Friday that it had failed what was billed as a “make or break” inspection and would lose annual funding of about $200 million — more than half the hospital’s budget — at the end of the year.
The move is likely to force Los Angeles County to close the long-troubled public hospital, give it to someone else to run or turn it into a clinic, as officials have repeatedly acknowledged.
During a lengthy meeting, federal inspectors told King/Drew officials that the hospital still did not meet minimum patient-care standards.
King/Drew has been out of compliance with federal guidelines since January 2004, when it was first cited for serious lapses in care that had injured and killed patients.
During the latest inspection, the hospital failed nine of the government’s 23 conditions for federal funding, according to a letter from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services that was hand-delivered Friday to King/Drew’s administrator.
Federal regulators identified problems in nursing, pharmacy, infection control, surgical services, rehabilitation services, quality control, patients’ rights and the hospital’s governing body and physical plant.
In fact, inspectors found more problems in the supposedly reformed King/Drew than they had at any time in the last three years. Some of the life-threatening lapses cited were nearly identical to those found in the past.
For instance, the letter said, “there were no appropriately trained and competent staff, on the 3E unit, assigned to watch the heart monitors of seriously ill patients who required cardiorespiratory monitoring. This is especially troublesome, because previously documented cases showed that patients died when nurses at King/Drew failed to heed heart monitor warnings.”
For those who don’t know, King/Drew has been in trouble for years now (The Los Angeles Times won a Pulitzer Prize for their series “The Troubles at King/Drew” a couple of years ago.) Today’s article gives a good summation of its prominence in the community:
The 252-bed hospital south of Watts is one of the few sources of acute healthcare for the uninsured in South Los Angeles, most of them African American or Latino. King/Drew has enormous symbolic value as well: It was created to remedy racial inequities in healthcare after the 1965 Watts riots and has long been a source of pride — and jobs — in the community.READ more