Monday, October 29, 2012

ideomotor effect

The ideomotor effect refers to the influence of suggestion or expectation on involuntary and unconscious motor behavior. The movement of pointers on Ouija boards, of a facilitator's hands in facilitated communication, of hands and arms in applied kinesiology, and of some behaviors attributed to hypnotic suggestion, are due to ideomotor action.

Ray Hyman ("How People Are Fooled by Ideomotor Action") has demonstrated the seductive influence of ideomotor action on medical quackery, where it has produced such appliances as the "Toftness Radiation Detector" (used by chiropractors) and "black boxes" used in medical radiesthesia and radionics (popular with naturopaths to harness "energy" used in diagnosis and healing.) Hyman also argues that such things as Qi Gong and "pulse diagnosis," popular in both Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurvedic medicine as allegedly practiced by Deepak Chopra, are best explained in terms of ideomotor action and require no supposition of mysterious energies such as chi.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

cognitive dissonance

Cognitive dissonance is a theory of human motivation that asserts that it is psychologically uncomfortable to hold contradictory cognitions. The theory is that dissonance, being unpleasant, motivates a person to change his cognition, attitude, or behavior. This theory was first explored in detail by social psychologist Leon Festinger, who described it this way:
Dissonance and consonance are relations among cognitions that is, among opinions, beliefs, knowledge of the environment, and knowledge of one's own actions and feelings. Two opinions, or beliefs, or items of knowledge are dissonant with each other if they do not fit together; that is, if they are inconsistent, or if, considering only the particular two items, one does not follow from the other (Festinger 1956: 25).
He argued that there are three ways to deal with cognitive dissonance. He did not consider these mutually exclusive.
  1. One may try to change one or more of the beliefs, opinions, or behaviors involved in the dissonance;
  2. One may try to acquire new information or beliefs that will increase the existing consonance and thus cause the total dissonance to be reduced; or,
  3. One may try to forget or reduce the importance of those cognitions that are in a dissonant relationship (Festinger 1956: 25-26).

Monday, October 15, 2012

begging the question

Begging the question is a fallacy in reasoning whereby one assumes what one claims to be proving.

An argument is a form of reasoning in which one gives a reason or reasons in support of some claim. The reasons are called premises and the claim one tries to support with them is called the conclusion.

If one's premises entail one's conclusion, and one's premises are questionable, one is said to beg the question.

The following argument begs the question.
We know a god exists because we can see the perfect order of creation, an order which demonstrates supernatural intelligence in its design.
The conclusion of this argument is that a god exists. The premise assumes a creator and designer of the universe exists, i.e., that a god exists. In this argument, the arguer should not be granted the assumption that the universe exhibits intelligent design, but should be made to provide support for that claim.

Monday, October 8, 2012

irrelevant appeal to tradition

The irrelevant appeal to tradition is a fallacy in reasoning in which one argues that a practice or a belief is justifiable simply because it has a long and established history. An example of this fallacy can be found in an article by Valerie Reiss on how to choose a psychic:

Christianity sees divination as going against the Bible's mandate not to seek "soothsayers," because that would be expressing a lack of faith in God as omnipotent and all-knowing. Yet many ... of the world's religions and cultures have woven it into their fiber--Hinduism uses Vedic astrology to match marriage partners; in Chinese culture, an expert is consulted on the most mundane to crucial life matters--from when to get married to where to live. Wanting to know what will happen is not just a result of our modern brains grasping for control and answers; it's been the human condition for millennia, people have been seeking prophecies since Greeks took often long journeys to consult the Oracle at Delphi. ("5 Things to Know Before Going to a 'Psychic'")

Monday, October 1, 2012

wishful thinking

Wishful thinking is interpreting facts, reports, events, perceptions, etc., according to what one would like to be the case rather than according to the actual evidence. Wishful thinking is often coupled with self-deception. A person who is afraid of surgery and believes that chemotherapy is a hoax perpetrated by Big Pharma and the AMA may want to believe that the alkaline diet or Gerson therapy is her best chance at cancer survival, despite the lack of scientific evidence for either of those so-called alternative treatments. Her desire to believe in alternatives to surgery and chemotherapy may lead her to ignore the evidence in favor of the treatment recommended by science-based medical doctors. She may be taken in by glorious stories of people who were diagnosed with this or that kind of cancer which went away after doing the alternative treatment. The stories may be true, but the causal link between the alternative treatment and the remission of cancer is made in the mind of the believer. Rather than admit that just because one thing happened after another it isn't necessarily the case that the first thing caused the second, she believes that anyone who doesn't agree with her about the causal connection must be a shill for Big Pharma and the AMA.

Wishful thinking should not be confused with positive thinking, which, in its most absurd form is a kind of magical thinking that involves trying to make things happen by willing them to happen. In its best form, positive thinking is hopeful and optimistic, but realistic.