Be aware of cold reading and cognitive bias at CVS

So, I found an intriguing blog that mentioned Mill Avenue, Miles Loves ASU, but it also had some somewhat creepy elements. I read it with an eye for the anthropology and it looks like a fairly straightforward experiential read with strong religious elements and mystical thinking. Most of the narrative takes place at the CVS on the corner of Mill & University and involves various people. A pretty basic read and insight into this culture’s thinking.

However, this is the part that I’d like to draw people’s attention to:

Amidst the awkwardness of the conversation, Kiah’s knees began to hurt and the Lord gave her a word of knowledge about one of the kid’s knees in the group. She interjected into the conversation and abruptly asked, “Who’s knees are hurting?”

One of the kids instantly responded with a mixture of shock and questioning concern. Looking quite taken aback, he tentatively told Kiah that his knees hurt. He told her that he had knee problems and that they had been hurting pretty bad while they were standing around talking.

To the kid who responded with a “mixture of shock and concern” be aware this trick isn’t exactly as amazing as it seems. What Kiah did—possibly without out knowing it herself—is a form of a very old con called Cold Reading. Joint pain is not uncommon among humans, particularly the knees (especially noting how poorly our skeletons function for standing upright), so finding one person in three with hurting knees is not at all uncommon. And, failing to find someone with hurting knees, she probably would have shrugged it off.

To ascribe the discovery to a supernatural origin really pushes the whole thing beyond the pale.

The story then goes on to describe how the group uses an incantation over the boy’s knee and the pain goes away. (Did they incant over it after he took the weight off it?) “The kid walked around. And then jumped up and down on them. And then squatted and bent them and stomped his feet. To his dismay and the dismay of his friends, his knees were completely healed.” Dismayed… Really?

This sort of “prophetic evangelism” is actually somewhat problematic in that it appears to teach people to use cold reading on other people and then ignore failures (for those of you who know what I’m talking about, this is a type of confirmation bias.) It’s not actually mystical and to treat it in such a fashion can lead inevitably to poor judgment.

[[Editor’s note: Cross posted from Under the Hills Authorspace]]

The Good Person Test: “Have you ever been angry at another person?”

Depending on the script being used, the interviewer will warm up the audience in a variety of ways. Primarily by asking them if they think they’re a good person. “Do you believe you’re a good person? Well, if you think that you shouldn’t have any trouble taking this test.” The next line varies also, but there’s only a set few so I’m going to pick the script used the last time someone tried this on me.

“Have you ever gotten so mad at someone you wanted to kill them? Or, how about if you were cut off in traffic and you shook your fist and shouted at the person in the next car. Ever done that? If so, you’re a murderer. ‘He so ever who has hatred in his heart for his fellow man has committed murder in his heart.’”

This line is often presented by asking either if a person has “ever hated someone else” but more often than not the interviewer will water it down by asking if they’d ever simply been “angry at someone else.” Such as getting angry at someone who cut you off in traffic, stolen from you, or caused you harm. The common stripe between these acts is that they’re all things that would raise the hackles of average, well-adjusted people.

Of course, the reply to the “Yes…” is “If you get angry at someone you have committed murder in your heart and that makes you a murderer.” No, a non-sequitur judgment based on a thought-crime doesn’t really convince me. We don’t live in a society where getting angry is murder—it’s childish to presume that anger, a lizard-brain reaction, is equivalent to unlawfully ending the life of a peer. By morally conflating these two things—anger and murder—the script deliberately confuses extremely disparate concepts.

As a community it is unhealthy to react to anger in the same way we would murder. Anger is an emotional reaction to frustrating situations; murder is a criminal act, bound from us by law and culminates in the end of a life. One is temporary, fleeting, an emotion and a natural part of our own dialogue with ourselves and each other. Murder is forever—an ending, a socially damaging act.

Think for a moment how repugnant it is for anyone to combine these two things into one.

How can we have a sane discussion about why we find murder immoral if at the same time we have to also resolve how really it’s exactly the same as if the murder didn’t happen: one person got mad at the other.

This part of the Good Person Test is sociopathic: murder and anger are not morally equivalent.

When this part of the Good Person Test is used, the interviewer must somehow divorce the human condition (their own condition) from reality. They are deliberately abusing the credulity of the person they’re talking to, attempting to turn normal, human emotional reactions—the very underpinnings of why we behave the way we do—into criminal acts, which no sane criminal code has ever done.

This is a form of emotional blackmail, a disingenuous attempt to flog the listener with human nature. To treat them as if they are not rationally responsible for their own behavior simply because of their emotions—especially if all evidence shows that they’ve been angry before but never committed murder. Manipulating people by emotionally blackmailing them is a reprehensible behavior; this is not the act of a compassionate, caring person.

Next: “Have you ever told a lie?”

Index: The Good Person Test is immoral

The Good Person Test: A Critique

The Dishonest and Immoral Good Person Test

Over recent years we’ve seen the rise of a particularly pernicious form of propaganda among evangelical preachers. The so-called “Good Person Test” which has received little visible criticism. With a little bit of rational thinking and actual empathy for other human beings we can quickly see why this religious sales pitch is immoral.

“The Good Person Test” is an immoral psychological device designed by Ray Comfort and employed by Way of the Master evangelicals as a tool of conversion. It is a poorly constructed syllogism that uses emotional blackmail, disrespectful treatment, moral conflation, and outright condescension in order to abuse the credulous and social.

I am going to approach it in segments because this is the way it is presented.

Anger is murder

One lie, always a liar, aka lying cannot be moral

One theft, always a thief

Attraction is sex, aka attraction is cheating, aka sex is bad

• The vanity of a name, aka do you have a point? (I am not doing this one because it has no relation with reality)

• All roads lead to eternal torture

The script itself is a better litmus test for the so-called “goodness”, or at least moral intelligence, of the interviewer than it is for the audience. By far the worst aspect of this script happens to be the unspoken dialogue steeped in Christian mythology that whosever breaks a single of the unsubstantiated rules will suffer a horrible punishment. This is especially repulsive when the script starts to use thought crime as a reason to lay blame rather than personal integrity, character, or action.

I find this particular form of evangelism to be repellent. These people manipulate the good graces of their audience, beat them with emotional blackmail, false entitlement, false intimacy, and use other con game tactics that are all frauds of social human interaction. The double-standard that is portrayed by this test has never been above-board. I hope that if only those who use it would examine the technique, they would choose to abandon this unhealthy, disgusting behavior.

Perhaps if they do, they can become more like the good people the so-called “Good Person Test” claims to detect.

Park51, “Moque at Ground Zero” Video: Sufi’s Choice

BionicDance of YouTUBE paints a picture of discrimination and misunderstanding about the Park 51 "Islamic Cultural Center Near Ground Zero" and why a great deal of criticism of it falls short of actual enlightened discourse.

Today, the "Burn a Qur’an Day" envisioned–and ultimately cancelled–by Terry Jones has caused an equally stupid counter-reaction in Afghanistan where 10,000 people took part in a protest, that sparked violent riots, against what they perceive as America. I bring this up because during this week, as his event fast approached, he suddenly tried to hitch his horse to the Park 51 debate claiming he meant to do it to make the Sufi Muslims who planned the Park 51 community center to move it.

The Park 51 planners should be under no moral obligation to move anything: mosque, synagogue, church, temple, center for brain-slug worship, whatever.

Now all the Terry Jones’s of the world are being given the line that controls the Muslim world by the very people who spawn these counter-protests. When one troglodyte with a Twitter account and a Facebook page can make people go crazy, riot, and burn things, maybe it’s time for those people who are doing that to sit down and think about who exactly they’ve handed their leash over to–why are they wearing that collar anyway? Terry Jones isn’t the problem, churches and communities pull stunts like his all the time. He’s a troll: you’ve let yourself get trolled.

While religion, politics, lapses in critical thinking and morality certainly took part in the 9-11 event, it is not acceptable to paint every Muslim in the world with it. Just as it’s been a poor show by much of the Muslim world to throw up over everyone else in reaction to the stupid actions of Terry Jones’s congregation of 50 in Florida.

From the CNN article about the protest in Afghanistan, though, it makes me wonder if there weren’t other reasons for the protest and riots. Tens-of-thousands of disenfranchised people in a war-wracked country? Religious barbarism and fervor certainly isn’t even needed to get that to go sideways. Ultimately, the responsibility for their actions—riots, looting, burning their own city—falls squarely on their shoulders for not controlling themselves.

Everybody else. Let Terry Jones and his ilk crawl back into whatever hole he emerged from, I hope he didn’t see his shadow, because I really don’t want any further extension to this season of ignorance.

“Atheism is…” by Richard Coughlan

Atheism offers nothing to me
It never has, and it never will
It does not make me feel good
Or comfort me
It’s not there for me when I’m sick or ill
It can’t intervene in my times of need
It won’t protect me from hate or lies
It doesn’t care if I fail or succeed
It won’t wipe the tears from my eyes
It does nothing when I’ve got nowhere to run
It won’t give me wise words or advice
It has no teachings for me to learn
It can’t show me what’s bad or nice
It’s never inspired or incited anyone
It won’t help me fulfill all my goals
It won’t tell me to stop when I’m having fun
It’s never saved one single soul
It doesn’t take credit for everything I acheive
It won’t make me get down on bended knee
It doesn’t demand that I have to believe
It won’t torture me for eternity
It won’t teach me to hate or dispise others
It can’t tell me what’s right or wrong
It won’t tell anybody that they can’t be lovers
It’s told nobody that they don’t belong
It won’t make you think that life is worth living
It has nothing to offer me, that’s true
But the reason atheism offers me nothing
Is because I’ve never asked it to
Atheism offers nothing because it doesn’t need to
Religion promises everything because you want it to
You don’t need a religon or to have faith
You just want it because you need to feel safe
I want to feel reality
And nothing more
So atheism offers me everything
That religion has stolen before.

Prop 8 fails basic Constitutional test, first round KO by 14th amendment

Remember California Proposition 8? Aka California Marriage Protection Act, aka The Mormon Proposition: a measure that added a new provision to the California Constitution that provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid and recognized in California.” Well, it was just ruled deeply unconstitutional by a federal judge today, August 4, 2010.

"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite-sex couples are superior to same-sex couples," Walker, who was appointed to the federal bench by former President Ronald Reagan, wrote in his opinion.

"Race restrictions on marital partners were once common in most states but are now seen as archaic, shameful or even bizarre," he added. "Gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage; marriage under law is a union of equals."

The written opinion and decision happen to be filled with numerous responses and reasoning why the Prop 8 supporters have failed to make their legal burden. It seems unlikely that an appeal will save them, unless they’ve actually been holding their best arguments in reserve for no reason.

Other sources with much more insight into the opinion have already begun to chime in. I will be compiling them as they fill in over the next few days.

And: “With a stroke of his pen, Judge Walker has overruled the votes and values of 7 million Californians who voted for marriage as one man and one woman.” If that offensive argument is the best that we can expect on appeal, then Prop 8 is certainly not long for this world. In the United States of America you don’t get to vote away basic human rights for a minority because you’re the majority.

Link, via CNN.

International Draw Muhammad Day on May 20

For those of you not already aware of the South Park Muhammad fiasco, I will attempt to enlighten you. If you already know about it, skip to the steps below.

South Park released an excellent episode that displayed the problem with showing Muhammad — you can’t show him or death threats will ensue. The first episode (part one of a two-part show) ended with Muhammad being brought out in a bear costume that didn’t even show his eyes, so that the town of South Park would not be blown up (or so the characters of South Park had hoped). This episode resulted in multiple death threats from Extremist Muslim communities. Comedy Central, the network that airs South Park Episodes, caved to the threats. They suspended the internet version of the episode (this is an episode you can no longer watch on the South Park website) and severely censored the second episode, which was never released online. They also suspended an old episode called “Super Friends” which featured an actual cartoon version of Muhammad. The makers of South Park have issued a public statement saying that they did not authorize the censorship. Comedy Central still has not issued any comment on the matter.

Comedy Central’s fear is not unwarranted. Several people who have drawn and displayed images of Muhammad or criticized Islam have received the same death threats. Some went into hiding, others were murdered. Theo Van Gogh, a film director who produced a documentary criticizing Islam’s treatment of women, was one of the murder victims. Photos of his body were used to threaten Comedy Central. This represents one of the worst forms of censorship I have seen — because of its international scale. It isn’t being perpetrated by any one government; it is being perpetrated by murderous extremist groups who reach around the globe to kill anyone who offends them. It’s time this murderous censorship came to an end. That’s why the International Draw Muhammad Day meme was started.

Our plan is to spread the images of Muhammad around the internet in order to send a message to these murderous extremists. We must all tell them that we will not be silenced. They can’t tell us what we can or can’t say, or who we can or can’t draw. Censorship cannot take all of us down.

The way this will work:

1. Everyone who receives this must spread the word. Post it on your blog, write a note or bulletin, make a journal entry, send e-mails to everyone in your address book, make a youtube video talking about it, whatever it takes. That way, if one of us is taken out, there will still be millions more who are spreading the word.

2. Draw Muhammad. You don’t have to be an artist. Draw a stick figure, a smiley face, whatever you can. Those who use different media in their artwork can show Muhammad differently (sculptures, carvings, whatever)

3. Photograph or scan in this artwork, in an internet-compatible file type.

4. On May 20, post it in all the places where you told people about the event. Make sure it’s posted in as many places as possible, so that it can’t be censored away.

And that’s all there is to it. By participating in this, you will take a stand for free speech. You will stand up for the rights of every person around the world. Murderous extremists will not rule over what we say and what we draw. We will not be silenced!!!

Link to the Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Everybody-Draw-Muhammad-Day/116425498385947

Go there and like it :)

Mill Avenue Resistance Reports: Saturday, April 4th 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

The lit cross is visible again on ‘A’ Mountain, most likely due to the upcoming Christian holiday of Easter (the vernal equinox, and thus Ostara has already past.) It was visible around the same time last year as well. A decoration that counts probably about sixteen feet in height, made of a series of round-white lights fashioned in a cruciform. The holiday will occur this upcoming weekend on April 12th.

Also creating a different atmosphere on the Ave happened to be the Tempe Music Festival.

At around 9:30pm some of the Way of the Master evangelicals were congregating around Mill’s End café talking to Korky and Cindy; when suddenly they scattered upon some unknown signal. Totally disappearing from where they were previously crowded handing out pamphlets. A mere minute later, Gadfly and Kazz arrived from across the street. The evangelical group had Al, Suzanne, Richard, and a few others—most of whom did not reappear that night.

Omar set up in front of Urban Outfitters for most of the night and used the amplification system of the Resistance to talk to passersby; he also had one of his new signs that reads, “EVOLVE LOVE.” There, a few of the Resistance stopped to talk to random components of the WoTM evangelicals—like Richard, who got himself caught in a long discussion with Strawberry Joe, a street rat who’s been around Mill for a two years or so.

Evidence shows that Jonathan’s group were possibly out earlier in the afternoon and night at the Tempe Music Festival. However, they were not in that position later on in the evening nearing 11pm.

The cap on the entire night was the arrival, once again, of Jeremiah who took advantage of the groups moving between the Tempe Music Festival and Mill Ave proper. As soon as he appeared the Resistance moved to siege him as they usually do—primarily out of a desire to see him because he’s well known, partially out of sheer entertainment.

The encounter with Jeremiah went predictably. Between arguing points out of Christian mythology and doctrine from their holy book he vacillated between poorly supported and ignorant positions on scientific issues like the Theory of Evolution and Global Warming. Parroting unknown propaganda that wasn’t taken well by the Resistance. Rocco, Joe, Gadfly, and Kazz took their measure of him as he tried to talk to passing crowds on these various subjects—Joe coined a speech out of his refutations: “Jeremiah, why don’t I just record the proper responses to these things that you have to say so that they can just be played back when you say the same thing without having researched it…I wouldn’t even have to be here to prove you wrong.”

Roosevelt Resistance Reports: Friday, April 3rd 2009

The Mill Avenue Resistance reports are written by Kyt Dotson as an extension of anthropological research on the population of Mill Avenue in Tempe, Arizona. Since the Resistance does their protests Friday and Saturday there are two reports a week. The supporting material not related to the Resistance reports can be found on the Under the Hills blog.

Art Walk had a showing of the Way of the Master evangelicals on their usual spot at the Roosevelt triangle. Some people who haven’t been seen in a while joined Al and Edwin, mostly in the forms of Erin and Richard. The Resistance arrived with a great deal of people and set up amidst them sometime around 7:30pm—Todd, Rachel, Gadfly, Rocco, Kazz, among others.

The other groups lacked this time, nobody set up across the street in the opposite corner as sometimes happened in the past.

Art Walk pulled down a pretty fair number of people this round, sending them past that corner at a decent rate, possibly nearing fifty to sixty people or more a minute. The evangelicals had two separate amplification systems set at opposite sides of the corners and quite a few pamphleteers of varying stripe.

Discussions and argument this night weren’t well observed, but it appeared that Rocco spent a lot of his time managing one side with Kazz on the other.

Small knots of evangelicals from different groups were spotted out amid the Art Walk itself near Conspire and other regions, such as Trevor, and eventually Vocab’s group near night’s end.

The Phoenix Anonymous kept the Scientologists company across the street with their protest against the Scientology Corporation displaying glowing signs that read “CULT” and the Church of Scientology Corporation held their usual personality test tables upside their building—no tent set up today. As the Resistance don’t really connect themselves with the Phoenix Anonymous nor do they take notice of the Scientology protests little mingling happened there.

Rumors were that there was another group of preachers somewhere on Art Walk but they could not be found.