The Mind counter-Virus

I’ve always despaired at the inability of atheist/skeptical blogs to make any difference in the crazy nonsense people believe and even my own blog sub-title reflects that despair.

At the last skepticamp here in Ottawa after I had given my talk on propaganda I was asked by a member of the audience if perhaps the techniques of propaganda could be used for good instead of evil. I pointed out that the problem with that was “who gets the choose what is for the public good?”. Yet the question has haunted me. Recently at our local Unsermon one of the regulars wondered if we couldn’t somehow use propaganda techniques to teach people how to become critical thinkers? In the process they’d become immune to propaganda, much like a computer anti-virus to remove malignant computer virus.

I love the idea but sadly I don’t see how it could possibly work.

One of the techniques of PR (a modern name for propaganda) is “hero worship”. That is, one is more likely to believe and accept the ideas of a famous person and that to me directly contradict the ideals of critical thinking. Maybe all we can do is to encourage more science education.

I’d love to hear other ideas.

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2 thoughts on “The Mind counter-Virus

  1. May i ask you where you’d like to apply those tecnics if they exist ? Is it at your local unsermon ? On your blog ? Elsewhere ? Because the first question is not how to immune people against (bad) propaganda. It is : “what is the best place for people to begin thinking by themselves”. Is your local unsermon is made for that purpose ? Do “half-blind” people (like us) show up there to give and receive some lights on skeptical subject, atheism ? Do you have a method for receiving them and make them talk ? If you do that already, or local unsermon it’s not the good place for that, il have to think more. If not, know that i pragmatically learned (by doing it myself) with young students how to increase their abilities to think by themselves. (i used hemingway to write this. i have always wanted to write some articles i am very happy to begin)

  2. Some initial stuff useful in critical thinking has to be taught dogmatically. It can then have the dogma removed, by techniques I’ve never quite understood. One logic book I have uses a series of asides or the like to comment where the limitations are. For example, a lot of people do not get the truth table for the material conditional (it is pretty weird) and so this book comments that you’ll learn more why later. There’s also an appendix giving the first drop of information about the “why”. My only concern is that one either flags almost *everything* as potentially weird or debatable (because, e.g., there are more logical systems than any one person would know about) or much more research has to be done as to how people actually reason, have trouble with, etc. Up until recently, the normative standard has been so-called classical logic, but there’s a recent book (_Human Reasoning and Cognitive Science_) about the dangers of doing so. I’ve started to absorb this challenging subject myself and find myself in sort of meta-questioning … 🙂

    Alas, the person who I would respect most to give useful comments on such a volume is dead … (Horacio Arlo-Costa, formerly at CMU)

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