Thursday, October 27, 2011

Science and Naivete

In this blog post on the Scientific American site, writer and former chemist Cassie Rodenberg asks if we would take a risk-free version of psylocibin, "magic mushrooms", as a "mystical experience", or maybe just for the fun of it. Setting aside for the moment the different perception my generation might have on the question, I was struck by her questions about the potential ramifications:

Would we still be ourselves then? Would this be a new, improved me or an artificial version? Would my mom still be herself if she lost her narrow Southern view of religion? I’m not so sure.

My first reaction to this was "What do you mean? and How do you know?" I'm not posing a deep philosophical argument about the self and how it develops. I'm simply talking about the rigidity of abstracting these questions suggest. Do you think you have developed without outside influence up until now? Do you think your reading, interpersonal experiences, diet, medical treatments, etc, had not an "artificial" effect on your existing "self"? Do you think your mom has not changed at all from what you imagine her to be based on your child's perceptions of her?

My second reaction was "How ironic that the author responds to the potential for increased "openness" by exhibiting a certain closed-mindedness about the self and what shapes personality."

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Knowledge increases power

This article from Physorg reports on research about the effects of hypothetical questions. Juries often hear hypothetical questions before they are selected, and Sarah Moore, University of Alberta Business researcher, found that these questions can plant a bias. Jurors told ahead of time that they might hear such questions and not to let them influence opinions are far less likely to absorb the intended bias.

Thomas Hobbes said "scientia potentia est" = Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more likely you can develop your own opinion rather than adopting an opinion someone else would like you to have.