Category Archives: psychology

An Open Letter to Mark Mercer and Saint Mary’s University

culture, ethics, feminism, philosophy, politics, psychology Leave a reply

Dr. Mercer,

I recently read your article in the UBC’s Ubyssey, and I have to admit: it raised some serious questions for me. I’ve spent some time thinking on them, so I hope that you’re not immediately dismissive.

These questions pertain to your being a Doctor of Philosophy in Philosophy, and yet you fail to act in accord with at least two critical principles that you should be teaching.

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Religion is the Cause of Terrible Behaviour

ethics, philosophy, psychology, religion 4 Replies

A fairly common theme in many atheist blogs is that religion is a causal factor in the various atrocities committed by people who are religious. JT Eberhard makes that point at the bottom of this post when he says (sarcastically):

But Islam can’t be the cause of this barbaric behavior because the Koran has some beautiful parts.

Now my purpose here is neither to attack nor vilify JT, so let’s not focus overmuch on that post. The key idea is that:

[Religion] is the cause of [general terrible behaviour]

It’s a reasonably popular viewpoint, which should be readily apparent to anyone who frequents atheist blogs. And I think it’s problematic (and wrong) for a number of reasons.

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Taking Advantage of Seeking a Better Life

culture, ethics, philosophy, psychology, skepticism 3 Replies

There’s no limit to the number of ‘self-help’ gurus out there, who lay claim to all sorts of nonsense. At best, these people are deeply misguided about what it is they are doing. At worst, they are intentionally running scams and swindling people out of money.

I want to focus on a particular example: Psychology of Vision, aka Chuck and Lency Spezzano. And I’d like to make it clear that there’s no way for me to tell, with confidence, which end of the above spectrum they lie on.

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Language as prejudice

culture, Linguistics, psychology Leave a reply

So let’s start with: I am neither a linguist, nor a sociologist, but I’d love to hear from anyone with experience in those fields. I did a quick search on Google Scholar and didn’t find anything related.

I think a large part of racism is borne implicitly, a collection of attitudes and behaviour adjustments that, in themselves, are neither conscious nor large, yet the aggregate effect of millions of people acting in this way is what tilts the whole system against various groups.

I was thinking about language recently. Language isn’t ever neutral. Sounds are processed, regardless of their origin. Our brain is constantly pattern matching everything we see and hear, and doing it’s best to provide itself with a working hypothesis of what’s going on in the world around it.

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Memories, Emotions, and Brains

philosophy, psychology 11 Replies

One of the things I noticed when taking my Philosophy undergrad was how 17th century Philosophers (and Philosophers of other periods too) often made grandiose claims about how people thought about the world. Often their 100% certain proclamations were refuted by other Philosophers who were also 100% certain about how the world worked. A particular example of this would be the general commitment to the Platonic notion of how we are born with a complete set of concepts (believed and accepted by most philosophers prior to Locke), and then the commitment to the complete opposite, the ‘blank slate’ (Locke’s tabula rasa), the idea that we are born with zero ideas. Turns out that biology is more complex than that. Philosophy of Mind makes slow progress.

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Shame is not a lever lightly pulled

psychology 15 Replies

Occasionally, I see people invoking ‘shame’* as a strategy to some end. That people ‘should be ashamed for doing shameful things’ and that ‘shaming people for doing shameful things is good’. I have to admit that I find this mindset somewhat baffling, for a number of reasons.

Without getting into the ins and outs of what shame ‘is’, exactly, I think we can agree that shame is a negative feeling we have in certain situations, related to/overlapping with guilt, or to just generally ‘feeling bad’*. I think that ‘feeling bad’ captures a wide range of situations, but the word ‘shame’ applies when the ‘feeling bad’ is in response to a social response (or a projected potential social response) to an action we just did. An illustration: a child breaks a window and feels shame, even though no-one is around, because that child projects how people will react to her breaking that window. (This article is an extremely simplified overview. For a far more in-depth and technical article, see end note. For those of you with a background in Psychology: I am intentionally conflating guilt/shame/embarrassment as these terms are often conflated in the vernacular. This article is not intended to be an explanation of the difference between those things, but an argument against trying to evoke that group of emotional responses)

There are two important criteria to be evaluated when trying to determine whether or not a particular tactic is ‘good’.

  1. Is it effective? Given the goal that I want to achieve, does using this tactic actually move me towards that goal? Is effective in the long-term, or only in the short-term?
  2. Is it ethical? If the tactic is, itself, harmful, and there is no other less-harmful effective option, then yes this tactic may well be the least unethical choice. Conversely, if there are other less-harmful effective options, then the use of this tactic is unethical.

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The Essentials of our movement

philosophy, psychology, skepticism 51 Replies

DJ Grothe and his ambivalent stance regarding sexual harrassment. Dawkins and his ‘Dear Muslima’ letter. Penn and… well, frankly, everything. All of these freethinkers and atheists and skeptics taking a wrong turn here… They must be bad freethinkers and atheists and skeptics. Right…? [See links at the end of post for background info]

I am anti-religion. That, I think, could be said of me without any fear of contradiction. I am anti-religion because it’s false and unsupported by the evidence. I am anti-religion because (generally speaking) religions are anti-woman, anti-homosexual, anti-sex, anti-animal, and anti-[pretty much anything that takes power away from the people running the religion]. But these are the surface reasons, not the core. As bad as these things are, these are secondary illnesses, not the primary disease. The problem?


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