On criticism

Here are some thoughts on the average person making evaluative statements, as well as professional reviewers and critics opining, pontificating, on all sorts of issues.

You can’t go very long in conversation, without reading some opinion on some issue or other. Often this is a criticism of a group, of a performance, or of some work. It may be done by a professional, in an area where they allegedly have expertise. It may be done by some folks sitting around a cracker barrel at some general store. It could easily be people you’ve met for drinks at a pub, or the group at the next table. There are no shortage of opinions and no shortage of opinionated people.

Now if you agree with the opinions expressed by some commentators you may think that they’re very smart and wise and well-informed. If you disagree with them you may think that there are not very bright, not very clued in and uninformed.

So you might be with a group that is criticizing the singing of Celine Dion. Although many common folk like her singing it has been fashionable for people in the music industry or reviewers to put down her abilities. You will agree or disagree with the critics according to your own musical tastes, and tastes vary.

What I think happens is that critical comments are to a large extent nothing more than rationalizations, or justifications, for likes or dislikes. So if you have an emotional response to something or an intellectual response to something, you will feel you have to justify it. Then you will come up with some verbal description of why you like something or why you don’t. Depending on your training it might be of fairly simplistic take on things, or it might be a very sophisticated argument. But in the end, I don’t think you’re doing very much more than saying “hooray” or “boo”, with commentary to rationalize your feelings.

Your evaluation of some performance will always depend on your previous beliefs, your ideas about the world and your thoughts and feelings towards the topic at hand. It also will depend upon your current state of mind, physical state, emotional state and also depend upon the setting.

I should mention that your physical state could include things such as substances ingested, recreational chemicals, fatigue, medications, physical comfort and undoubtedly other things.

Your emotional state could vary widely depending on what is happened to you during the day, how receptive you are to certain types of performance at that particular time, and again undoubtedly other things. Also there are some standard emotions: fear, anger, anxiety, awe and sadness.  There are many, many more emotional states and I’m pretty sure not all are named or commonly recognized. There are many subtle states of mind that I have experienced in my life that I don’t have a name for. There may well be other states of minds that others experience and do not have a name for.

The setting can alter significantly how you perceive and how you respond to things. In the early days of LSD experimentation, two factors were identified as being relevant to the type of experience you had when ingesting LSD or other psychoactive substances. These were set and setting. I think set refers to our emotional and physiological state. I believe that setting refers to our physical surrounds. We also need to consider expectations as to what might happen. It is clear that the physical setting will alter our perceptions and our emotions, our response. For example if you’re on a beach, sitting by a campfire, listening to a group of people singing, some playing instruments, you will respond differently than if you are attending a concert. If you were to review the performance at these differing venues you would undoubtedly apply different criteria towards evaluating the performances.

So there are usually criteria that can be articulated when evaluating a performance or a work of some sort. However these may be implicit and not articulated. They may be quite arbitrary or they may be based on some theoretical underpinnings. It does not mean that they are particularly good.

In the end, people will make evaluations. Often the evaluations will be critical and sometimes the evaluations will be laudatory. A lot of people making these criticisms will tell a really good story. But like any other type of storytelling, they may give a good story: a story seemingly well supported with facts and a story told well. It does not follow that the story gives us a deeper understanding into the truth, the reality, the essential nature of the situation.

Skeptic or pseudo-skeptic?

Adapted from some material on the World Wide Web.

True Skeptics / Open-Minded SkepticsPseudo-skeptics / Closed-Minded Skeptics
Questions everything and takes nothing on faith, even from cherished established institutions.Does not question anything from established non-religious institutions, but takes whatever they say on faith and demands that others do the same.
Asks questions to try to understand new things and are open to learning about them.Does not ask questions to try to understand new things, but judges them by whether they fit into orthodoxy.
Applies critical examination and inquiry to all sides, including their own.Applies “critical thinking” only to that which opposes orthodoxy or materialism, but never to the status quo itself.
Withholds judgment and does not jump to rash conclusions.Immediately judges as false and debunks anything that contradicts their paradigm.
Seeks the truth and considers it the highest aim.Are not interested in truth, evidence or facts, only in defending their views.
Thinks in terms of possibilities rather than in preserving fixed views.Cannot think in terms of possibilities, but sees their paradigms as fixed and constant.
Fairly and objectively weighs evidence on all sides.Deceive themselves by failing to consider all available evidence.
Acknowledges valid convincing evidence rather than ignoring or denying it.Automatically dismisses and denies all data that contradicts materialism and orthodoxy.
Are non-judgmental and slow to draw conclusions about things they know little or nothing about.Are judgmental and quick to draw conclusions about things they know little or nothing about.
Uses objective analysis and examination of things they initially oppose rather than scoffing and ridiculing.Scoffs and ridicules what they oppose instead of using objective analysis and examination.
When faced with evidence or facts they find conflicts with their current understanding, they seek to understand the issue.When faced with evidence or facts they can’t refute, uses semantics, word games and denial to try to obfuscate the issue.
Are able to adapt their paradigms to new evidence and update their hypothesis to fit the data.Unable to adapt their paradigms to new evidence, and denies data which doesn’t fit into them.
When all conventional explanations for a phenomenon are ruled out, are able to accept non-conventional ones.When all conventional explanations for an unexplainable phenomenon are ruled out, are still not able to accept non-conventional ones.
Accepts that there are mysteries and revels in trying to understand them. Can tolerate ambiguity.Dislikes mystery and uncertainty, and insist that all unknown phenomena must have a mundane explanation. Cannot tolerate very much ambiguity.
Views science as a tool and methodology, not as a religion or authority to be obeyed. Understands the difference between the scientific process and the scientific establishment.Views the scientific establishment as a religion and authority to be taken on faith and never questioned or challenged. Does not understand the difference between the scientific process/methodology and the scientific establishment institution.
Acknowledges that the scientific establishment is subject to politics, corruption, control, censorship and suppression, as all human based institutions are – and therefore must be critically examined and scrutinized, rather than taken on faith, especially in the light of contrary evidence to their claims.Assumes that the scientific establishment is objective and unbiased, and free of politics, corruption, control, censorship and suppression for no other reason than blind faith in authority
Will admit they are wrong when the evidence calls for it.Will never admit that they are wrong no matter what, regardless of evidence.

True intelligence

“One essential element of true intelligence is the ability to communicate clearly, and as part of this, the emotional intelligence to realise that doing so is worthwhile.” — The Brother

On Conspiracy Denial – Left and Right


  • Most people are all too aware of the events of 9/11
  • Many people are ready to accept the government explanations
  • Many people are ready to demonize countries such as Iraq, and cast aspersions of Muslims in general
  • A few people question the government explanations
  • When they do, they seldom are accorded any respect – from the press, from the left, from the right
  • In this paper, I try to analyze why that is the case.

A Few Principal Arguments from the Left (Primarily the U.S. left)

1 – Our government would never do that

2 – Our government is incompetent and could not pull it off

3 – They could never keep such an operation a secret

4 – Too many people would have to be in on the conspiracy

5 – The physical evidence has all been explained by the 9/11 commission and the NIST study

6 – You must be somewhat deranged to even think that such a conspiracy could exist, yet alone succeed

7 – We are an exceptional and favored people, on the side of good, and only dastardly foreigners could do such a thing

8 – You have not explained every detail

A Few Principal Arguments from the Right (Primarily the U.S. right)

All of the above plus:

9 – This is a partisan attack; you must be a democrat, and maybe a liberal

Let me tackle each argument in turn:

1 – Our government would never do that

  • our government would never do that – Why not? It has never bothered them to do it to others nations, and people have denied it, averted their eyes, claimed it was a good thing, rationalized it or denied it
  • evidence of conspiracy – There was a conspiracy; the government has said so. A key question is: Who were the conspirators?
  • naivety – This was me a while back. Even with knowledge of destabilization efforts in Chile, Argentina, Iran, Iraq, East Timor, on and on, I accepted the narrative on 9/11. In fact, I gave the issue almost no thought.
  • it is an empire – Empires are ruthless

2 – Our government is incompetent and could not pull it off

  • our government is too incompetent – Well how competent do they have to be? They have obviously done many, many things requiring great competence. The technological dominance and military dominance of the U.S. does not speak to institutional incompetence. This is a bankrupt argument; it is glib, superficial, and not based on reality
  • flawless execution – Flawless execution is seldom necessary

3 – They could never keep such an operation a secret

  • Manhattan project – It seems to me that they pulled that off, and in great secrecy
  • media control mechanisms – keeping it a secret it not that hard given media control, media complicity, media subversion, media cowardice, media greed, careerism, belief in the cause, failure to question, institutional pressures serving as incentives and disincentives and shoddy thinking in the media
  • silencing of whistle blowers, in myriad ways

4 – Too many people would have to be in on the conspiracy

  • How many were involved? Just how big do you think the conspiracy would have to be? Perhaps given the level of control exerted in the government, the military, the bureaucracy, there would need to be a relatively small number of people in the know. Right now, I can’t address this with numbers – I will have to leave that to others – but it may be that only a small cadre would be needed, if they were in positions of power. There are numerous mechanisms that may be used to control others in such a situation. These include:
  • Direct bureaucratic authority – chain of command and discipline
  • Coercion and direct threats – personal and family – legal and extra legal
  • Appeals to patriotism and capability of superiors
  • Information Control – Lies and disinformation – information doled out on a need-to-know basis – keeping secrets
  • Marginalization of dissenters, moving them aside, up to disciplinary action and dismissal – denigration of dissenters
  • Organizational structures – cells
  • Murder and assassination
  • Financial and other incentives
  • Financial and other disincentives
  • Careerism
  • Exploitation of sociopathy
  • Exploitation of career criminals
  • Recruitment of mercenaries – recruitment of sociopathic persons
  • Recruitment of patsies
  • control of operatives – paid to do a job –follow orders

5 – The physical evidence has all been explained by the 9/11 commission, the NIST study and other studies (FEMA???)

  • There is a voluminous amount of refutation of the study by the 9/11 commission, the NIST study and other studies. I will not document these here, but refer you to others such as David Ray Griffin, Architects and Engineers for 9/11, and many other groups
  • The studies do not begin to explain the very well documented physical evidence, and they are contradicted in almost all essential points
  • we do have our nutters, but we also have very serious scholars – scientists, engineers, pilots, ex-government, ex-spies, ex-military, ex-cabinet ministers
  • there are the original researchers, and those who restate the results of these researches

Some of the things to be explained do include the following:

Briefly, these are:

  • Sudden onset
  • Straight down
  • Almost free fall speed
  • Total collapse
  • Sliced steel
  • Pulverization of concrete and other materials
  • Dust clouds
  • Horizontal ejections
  • Demolition rings
  • Sounds produced by explosions
  • Molten metal
  • The lack of testimony from individuals who personally placed explosive devices or who saw them placed does not weaken the controlled demolition hypothesis.
  • If the author is able to produce a theory that more parsimoniously and comprehensively explains the presence of these 11 phenomena, it will be a useful addition to the debate.

6 – You must be somewhat deranged to even think that such a conspiracy could exist, yet alone succeed

  • This is in fact an ad hominen attack, and one without basis. I could be wrong in some aspects of my belief, but my mind works reasonably well. A large number of people in the 9/11 truth movement are professionals, with good reputations in their fields. To denigrate them as “tin foil hat conspiracy theorists” is absurd. It is a shabby and indefensible position
  • denigration of those who posit a different story
  • tin foil hat – no debate -ad hominen attack

7 – Demands that we explain every detail

  • what we can’t answer – many things are hidden from us
  • It is a secret conspiracy – obviously we can’t answer every question!
  • In a court of law, to my knowledge, every last detail need not be tied down to win a conspiracy conviction

8 – We are an exceptional and favored people, on the side of good, and only dastardly foreigner could do such a thing

  • Denigration –demonization of foreigners
  • Puffery about U.S. purity

9 – This is a partisan attack; you must be a democrat, and maybe a liberal

  • To claim that this is a partisan issue is untrue – just plain wrong – some of the people questioning the story are democrats– many are republicans – some are liberals – many are conservatives – many are right wing libertarians
  • This is an issue that transcends political affiliation, and any left-right distinctions (impoverished distinctions in themselves)

Tribalism and group egocentricity

Is tribalism group egocentricity? There seems to be a relationship in my mind between egocentric attitudes and the egocentricity, let’s say the tribal centricity, of tribalism. — Ephektikoi


We denigrate, even demonize, those that we disagree with. More so if we don’t know them, if they are anonymous.  But regardless, we feel that we are right and they are wrong and they must be idiots, if not positively evil. — Ephektikoi

False alarms and missed fires


When you have to make an either or choice, there are two directions you can be wrong in. Either you think something is the case when it isn’t, or you think something is not the case and it is. The first is a false alarm; the second is a missed fire.

Some specialists talk about signal detection. Signal detection theory is a component of engineering. I learned about it in psychology, however. Then, decades ago, I had no idea why it could be important. It was some theoretical thing that we had to know about. However, over the years I have come to see that this is really a very good way of looking at events.

In statistics and in experimental work they talk about false positives and false negatives. That’s not terribly informative in terms of language. They also talked about type I and type II errors. Again this is not that informative in terms of common language. However, the notions are sound.

Sometimes we miss what’s going on; we don’t see it; we don’t notice it; we mischaracterize it; we miss the boat. On the other hand sometimes we have false alarms and a lot of action is taken that is unnecessary and may be counterproductive.

In signal detection theory things are made very mathematical. People draw graphs; talk about the signal detection curve, the receiver operating characteristic; and undoubtedly, do other things which I’ve long ago forgotten. One thing I do remember is you can make the situation better by achieving by improving the accuracy of the mechanisms making the decisions. This means changing the apparatus that examines the issues, whether machine, detecting device or some other mechanism, which could be your own intuition or procedures. This is a matter of changing the system so it works better.


Signal Detection Outcomes

(Contingency Matrix)

We can show these situations for outcomes in the following matrix:


Signal Present

Signal Absent

Meets Criterion

true positives (TP)

(hits or detections)

false positives (FP)

(false alarms)

Type I error

Does Not

Meet Criterion

false negatives (FN)


Type II error

true negatives (TN)

(correct rejection)

There’s another thing you can do. It just involves changing the bias in the system. You can change the threshold at which you say something has happened. You can make it higher so you’re less likely to say something has happened. You can make it lower so you’re more likely to say something has happened. However, in doing so, without improving the accuracy of the detection mechanism, you increase the number of errors of the other type. So if you improve the bias to reduce false alarms, you also miss more stuff. If you go the other way and improve the bias to detect more things, you will also increase the number of false alarms.

Without improving the capability of the system to determine truth from falsehood, you will change the operating characteristics of the system but you will not improve your overall accuracy. Changing the bias, changing the threshold, changing the triggering conditions does not make for more reliable choice-making or detection of signals.

Random Puzzle Pieces

There are vast undiscovered realms of information potentially available to us. These may be missed, unheard, ignored, or rejected without honest consideration. They may also be heard and understood or misunderstood.

However, whether they are heard or not they may be either correct or mistaken. If they are mistaken they may be honest mistakes or they may be lies.

Let’s conduct a thought experiment

Suppose we have a number of picture puzzles, jigsaw puzzles. We have one which is the true picture that we want to put together. However we don’t have the box so we don’t know what it’s really going to look like. We have a bunch of other puzzles, perhaps many puzzles, and these are not part of the picture were trying to assemble. They are the wrong picture. Now we can equate the first puzzle, the one were trying to build, to the true picture. We can equate all the others to mistakes and lies; they are the wrong picture.

Let us say that we take a random sample of each and every puzzle and then mix them altogether. Now the task is to assemble the true picture. How much success do you think you would have?

Although it has been said that analogies limp, perhaps we can see the parallels. I think that by looking at a broader spectrum of opinion, some of it being somewhat factual, and much of it being mistaken, we can at least get more parts of the true picture. Then we have to attempt to put things together into a coherent and true whole.

If we only look at safe and approved sources (i.e, mainstream views), we are 1) missing essential and required pieces of information, and 2) probably being propagandized. The media lie in the service of their owners and masters, and this has been shown time and again.

This is really the situation we find in so many of the issues we have to deal with in our world. We have some information available. We have misinformation and disinformation available. Some of the information, disinformation or misinformation we never encounter. Some we encounter and ignore or reject. Some we accept. What we accept may be true or may be false. From this we have to construct our understanding of the world. Good luck!