As this year draws to a close, I need to rethink my priorities in life. This series was started as my own attempt to coax at least a few people into using the tools of rational thought and the scientific method in their daily lives without forcing them to become professional scientists.
My tools have been light-hearted puzzles alternating with serious discussions of the easier elements of decision theory, statistics, and probability. As often as possible without becoming pedantic, I have tried to use examples from real life in an attempt to break down the artificial barriers many people seem to erect between academic learning and real life learning. I did this at the risk of offending readers since most people hold cherished beliefs that can easily be shown to be bogus with a little thought.
The world is full of minorities of all types who believe in strange things. For some reason, the United States has been a haven for evolution deniers and other cult-like activities. I respect the right of anyone to believe in whatever they want. The rub comes when they try to convince others or — worse — coerce others.
The most depressing logical problem I have heard recently was buried in Mitt Romney’s speech about his religion. Many people think that a Mormon is not suitable for high office even though we elected a fine Roman Catholic as president in spite of the fact that many voters were concerned that he would take orders from the Vatican. Because of concern about religion, Romney decided to face it head on. That was a courageous and good thing to do. What he said, however, left my head spinning. Before I make any comments, the whole text is here.
Here is one quote that stopped me: “Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom.” Think about the implications of this unsupported statement. Remember that when Romney uses the word “religion,” he implicitly means a theistic belief. Most of the founders of this country (including the first six presidents) would not have agreed with Mr. Romney since they were Deists (google on religions and founders — you will be flooded with many views). So forget for a moment any belief you might have and simply look at the logic of his statement in anticipation of making life decisions (this is a column about decision theory) based purely on the logic. My first stop on the logical path is to confront history. There have been many religions without liberty. In fact, most of them deliberately reduce liberty. Whether you think it is good or bad depends on your beliefs, but we cannot deny that all major religions seek to put limits on behavior. Strictly speaking, Buddhists are not religious in the sense of being theists. Therefore Buddhists can never be free. They must get locked in the same place as secular humanists and other atheists. This is a partial analysis, but I hope it is the basis of continued thought.
Do not dismiss this as an attack on either Mr. Romney or theism. I make no comments on his ability to be a good president or whether theism is valid. My only concern is the logical presentation of arguments. Space limitations and your attention span prevent me from giving examples of illogic from all candidates, but it would not be difficult to do.
But enough of this year! Let’s finish with a movie. Here is an excellent presentation of a simple concept that is crucial in making decisions, but one that many people simply do not understand.
Happy New Year.
In response to the interest my original tutorial generated, I have completely rewritten and expanded it. Check out the tutorial availability through Lockergnome. The new version is over 100 pages long with chapters that alternate between discussion of the theoretical aspects and puzzles just for the fun of it. Puzzle lovers will be glad to know that I included an answers section that includes discussions as to why the answer is correct and how it was obtained. Most of the material has appeared in these columns, but some is new. Most of the discussions are expanded compared to what they were in the original column format.