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Paul Wright's blog
Link blog: cambridge university, text, SMS, argument 
2nd Apr 2012, 10:15 am
The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
"I recently stumbled upon an example of secular intransigence that may give readers a sense of how religious people feel when their beliefs are criticized. It’s not a perfect analogy, as you will see, but the rigorous research I’ve conducted at dinner parties suggests that it is worth thinking about. We can call the phenomenon “the fireplace delusion.”"
(tags: sam-harris wood health psychology fireplace samharris religion)
The Art of Controversy - Schopenhauer
Machiavelli for arguments, illustrated here by someone with a keen knowledge of internet memes.
(tags: trolling controversy schopenhauer philosophy argument logic fallacy)
BBC News - Swiftkey, a scientific start-up
Interesting article about the best predictive keyboard for Android: it's the product of some Cambridge PhDs who studied natural language proccessing, apparently.
(tags: cambridge university compsci language swiftkey keyboard text SMS android)
2nd Apr 2012, 12:31 pm (UTC) - The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
I think that's very interesting. I think the basic point, that we (indeed, almost everyone) forgets what it's like to have your worldview turned upsidedown, and hence are not very helpful to people we're trying to convince of something contrary to their worldview is good and needs making. I know I've changed my mind about important things, but my memory of what I used to think is now completely fuzzy, and I don't remember any abrupt change, just an ongoing background reprioritisation.

And I agree that the woodsmoke is a fairly good example.

And he's totally right that I don't really want to believe it, and find my mind filling up with excuses like "oh, I'm sure it's not really that bad", even though I'm fairly sure he's right.

But what specifically bugged me is that although I expect his summary of the situation is right (it seems most plausible he only wrote it because he WAS convinced, against his existing judgement, of the harmfulness), he didn't really give the facts in his article. When he says woodsmoke is 30x as harmful as cigarette smoke, is that if you inhale the same volume of it? If you inhale once at a usuall distance from a fire vs inhaling from a cigarette? Over the course of a typical evening of sitting by a fire vs smoking? When he says it's a serious problem, is that if your house is heated primarily by a stove, or if you have a cosy fire once a month? Is "a higher incidence" 0.001% higher or 10% higher?

I mean, several of his comments _do_ seem un-nitpickable -- given that we know how disasterous to our health London was when everyone burned fuel at home and it was covered in smog, it seems inevitable that there's a similar level of risk to many other places today.

But if your article reads like "Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Correct explanation of serious world-wide health problem. Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Vague unfounded fear-mongering. Correct explanation of serious world-wide health problem. Vague unfounded fear-mongering," then it's offputting, because I feel like I've hit a brick wall, and I'm not convinced, I just have to go and look up a lot of citations myself, and I don't want to, and that annoys me.

I'm not blaming him -- he probbaly didn't intend the article to be as widely circulated as it has been, and would have cited it better if it was, and it actually supports his main point really, really well that I'm resistant to his article because of my emotional reaction. (After all, presumably that's what it looks like to anyone experiencing a change in worldview -- the convincing arguments must ALWAYS be surrounded by a halo of vague and badly-phrased ones.)

So maybe I shouldn't worry about it. But I was trying for some time to put into words what worried me about it, and I think that was it. I think he's probably _right_, all the way through, but he _says_ his aim is to convince us of the dangers of woodsmoke, and then use that as a metaphor, but that's a little undercut when the persuasion isn't as persuasive as I think he intends it to be (even, I think, discounting our natural reluctance to believe something new).
2nd Apr 2012, 12:38 pm (UTC) - Re: The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
it actually supports his main point really, really well that I'm resistant to his article because of my emotional reaction

In fact, that's even a better point, that if we care about the truth, we're not just under an obligation to listen to the evidence, but under an obligation to go out and find what the best evidence is and listen to that (The Least Convenient Possible World for our original point of view).

So even if his argument isn't superficially convincing, I should still listen, because he might be (in fact, almost certainly is) right. But I still felt impelled to rant about it first :)
2nd Apr 2012, 02:03 pm (UTC) - Re: The Fireplace Delusion : Sam Harris
We do burn wood, and plan to continue. Let's hope that our "clean-burn" stove does a better job than the open fire in the example.

It would be interesting to know the facts behind the article. For example smoke inhalation is a problem in third world homes where the fire is used for cooking and heating and ventilation is poor, as opposed to a western home with an enclosed stove and a high chimney.

If wood burning is a problem then we need to address this, as there seems a huge push at least in the marketplace for wood stoves. Wood stove selling shops are popping up all over the place, and we even see wood pellet heating systems advertised as "green".

(Eeek, LiveJournal has decided I'm French. Perhaps because I'm having to do this in Firefox as Chrome doesn't work with Twitter authentication, and I've been doing localisation testing in Firefox so probably have it set to French.)
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