Mon 4 Feb, 2008 01:52 pm
In the logic game 'showing pennies' two players each show a coin simultaneously. If both coins are the same, heads or tails, player 1 pockets the coins, and if they are mixed player 2 keeps the coins. If the object is to gain coins, the best strategy each can adopt is to guess what the other player will show. The probability of guessing correctly is the same - 1:2 for each player.
But what if player 1 could know what player 2 would show? It would be illogical to continue with a strategy based on guesswork. Logically, player 1 should use this knowledge - arranging his own coin to win the game, and given perfect knowledge should win every game. But could he be made to choose the unwise strategy? The experiments of the social psychologist Solomon Asch suggest he could.
'In Asch's standard procedure, a single subject was seated at a table with a group of 7 - 9 others (all confederates of the experimenter.) The group was shown one card with three vertical lines of different lengths, and members of the group were asked to judge which of the lines was the same length as a line on another card. Each individual announced his or her answer in turn, and the subject was seated second to last. The correct judgments were obvious and on most trials everyone gave the same (correct) response. But unknown to the subject, on several predetermined critical trials the confederates had been instructed to give the wrong answer.
The results were striking. Even though the correct answer was obvious, the average subject conformed to the group consensus on 32% of the critical trials, and 74% of subjects conformed at least once.' (Psychology. Atkinson, Atkinson, Smith and Bem. 1993. p.759-60)
Here a group of strangers cause 74% of subjects to override their own judgment in obvious and apparent matters of fact - and 32% to abandon their own judgment altogether.
Imagine then that distant ancestors of player 1 had guessed the outcome of all the games, and had written this down and passed it on from generation to generation as if it were the absolute truth. When player 1 was born, with deep seriousness they taught him this series of heads and tails so that he knew it by heart. They lavished praise upon him when he got it right and threatened and beat him if he got it wrong. Worse yet if he dared to question the validity of the series - he would face being punished and ostracized from the group.
Now, given perfect knowledge of the outcome of each game it's unlikely he would use this knowledge. Even as the games progressed and he lost coins he clearly could have won had he employed knowledge of the outcome - Asch's experiments suggest he would remain bound by social expectation.
This analogy illustrates the effect of religion on the use of the valid knowledge provided by a modern scientific understanding of reality. Of course, in reality it's far more complicated. It's not patently obvious that religion is at the root of the problems faced by humankind, but can sometimes appear to be the last bastion of comfort and hope in an increasingly hard and troubled world. Equally, it's not obvious that a scientific understanding of reality provides a better way. Rather, as religiously opposed groups use scientific knowledge as a tool to create ever more deadly weapons it can seem that science itself is the enemy.
It's therefore important it be recognized that this describes science used as a tool by religiously opposed groups in political, economic and military competition - not science recognized as valid knowledge and accepted as a rule for the conduct of human affairs.
In scientific terms there are no human groups. Because the people of any one 'ethnic' or 'racial' group can produce fertile offspring with the people of another, there is no fundamental validity to the divisions between people. Humankind is a single species occupying a single planetary environment.
Therefore, in scientific terms there are no nation states. Nations are human constructions - lines drawn on maps, re-drawn by warfare between religiously defined groups. This can be shown to be accurate with reference to historical record - just as it can be shown that the main features of capitalism were developed by religious authorities in order to pay mercenary armies to fight in the Crusades - a series of religious wars between Christians and Muslims for possession of the 'Holy Land.'
Together, religion, nation and capitalism do not allow for recognition of the truth-value of scientific knowledge - and this is the root cause of extinction threats now mounting like huge dark clouds on the horizon. In order of immanence they are the energy crisis, climate change and environmental degradation. Overpopulation is also a threat in that it exacerbates all these.
For example, in the 1950's the American President (Eisenhower) was briefed on the theory of climate change resulting from carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere from transport and industry powered by fossil fuels. The theory was gleaned from research in astrophysics - attempting to explain the high surface temperatures of the planet Venus. In this regard the theory is wholly uncontroversial and soon became the accepted explanation, whereas applied to Earth the science has been ignored, distorted and denied for more than half a century.
After publicly denying any link between industry and climate change, in 2005, President George W. Bush explained to British television news anchorman Trevor McDonald that he refused to sign up to the Kyoto agreement, and refused to order cuts in greenhouse gas emissions because it would damage America's economy.
This is not because alternate technologies are unavailable. 120 years ago, in 1890, Professor Paul La Cour used wind generated electricity to electrolyze an aqueous solution of sodium hydroxide to produce a hydrogen/oxygen gas he used to heat and light the high school in Askov, Denmark where he worked. 70 years ago, in 1939, Rudolph Erren, (a German-Jew who fled to Britain to escape the Nazi's) converted scores of trucks to run on hydrogen fuel, and recommended using excess capacity of generated electricity to create hydrogen for this purpose. Nonetheless, this knowledge and these technologies have still not been applied.
In the second paragraph we said 'But what if player 1 could know what player 2 would show? It would be illogical to continue with a strategy based on guesswork. Logically, player 1 should use this knowledge - arranging his own coin to win the game, and given perfect knowledge should win every game.'
Science is not perfect knowledge - it's valid knowledge, but less than a complete understanding of reality. That so, even if player 1 could only know half the time what player 2 would show, he could win all the games of which he has knowledge and half the others - giving him 3:4 of the coins.
Therefore, in order to increase our probability of survival it's vitally important to acknowledge and act in relation to what science does know, for in this way we act in increasing accord with the reality we inhabit. For this reason I have proposed that nations must form a global government constitutionally bound to honor a scientifically valid understanding of reality, and obligated to act to secure the continued existence of the human species.
If this doesn't occur - humankind will loose all its coins, everything gained by those countless generations who came before us, and who we honor by upholding their best guess at what it's all about - in face of opposition from those upholding other guesses.
It is illogical to continue with a strategy based on guesswork. We must have the courage to oppose the wrongful consensus - and aspire to become a rightful consensus meeting upon the level ground of a scientifically valid understanding of reality.