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This is my personal blog. This is the place where I rant and witter inanely about all sorts of things that take my interest from opposition to odious far right groups to personal learning projects such as my intermittent studies on evolutionary psychology.

If you’ve arrived here looking for information on my mental health and social care training and consultancy services you might want to click this link instead. That’ll take you to my commercial website: The Care Guy

You might also enjoy taking a look at Care To Share Magazine while you’re about it. That’s not affiliated with my business at all (or indeed anyone’s business). It’s a community of people who are interested in sharing ideas and insights into social care without any distractions from political ideologies, corporate agenda or media ‘fashion’.

Islamic State and Rotherham abuse ‘fuelling far right’ – BBC News

It’s good to see the media beginning to recognise the far right problem, even though much of it is fuelled by sensationalist media reports themselves.

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A few words about nonsense

A couple of people have expressed some concerns about my recent post ‘How we know what to rely upon‘. Some queried the placement of different specialties and beliefs in the ‘evidence hierarchy table’.

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In two of these cases, ‘Freudian psychodynamics’ and ‘the serotonin theory of depression’ I removed them. After all the point of the post was to identify how ideas are validated, not to get caught up in debates about ‘what goes where’. That wasn’t my purpose. I may yet reclassify reincarnation for just that reason if the person who promised to send me robust evidence supporting it actually does so. For now, though it remains firmly in the ‘nonsense’ camp, which brings me to the point of this post.

Whenever I use the word ‘nonsense’ people become (in descending order of intensity) ‘outraged’, ‘offended’, ‘irritated’, ‘narked’ or just ‘a bit miffed’. As a general rule I suspect that’s because they haven’t thought through just what the word ‘nonsense’ means.

Normally I wouldn’t dream of basing my arguments upon semantics. It’s usually a quite unwarranted equivocation to argue about the literal meaning of a word as though that somehow influences its perceived meaning in everyday, non-literal conversation. That’s just a kind of linguistic pedantry that blindly favours form over meaning. But in this case I’ll make an exception. That’s because the literal meaning of the word ‘nonsense’ is such an accurate representation of its actual usage, even though most people never stop to think it through.

The word ‘nonsense’ consists of two contributory words:
Non (a negation);
Sense (the 5 mechanisms by which we experience the natural world) OR (reasonable, understandable, coherent, logical).

In everyday conversation people generally use one or the other of these meanings of ‘sense’ but in the rational, empirical world of scientific observation I’d argue that both are needed. In fact, I think they’re mutually dependent.

Empiricism requires observable evidence of the external (not us) world. Evidence of the external world can only be observed through the 5 senses. Therefore in order to have a reason to believe something we need to be able to observe something that our beliefs, hypotheses and explanations can be based upon. If we can’t sense a thing we can’t demonstrate it and if we can’t demonstrate it there’s no reason to believe it. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s not true – but we’d be foolish to believe in something we can neither test nor observe.

That’s what the 20th century philosopher, Bertrand Russell was getting at when he claimed that there was a silver teapot orbitting the sun somewhere between the Earth and Mars. For all anyone knows, there might be but we’d be foolish to believe it without at least some observable, empirical evidence (beyond mere anecdote) to support it. And observable, empirical evidence means sensory input.

So – to sum up.
To ‘sense’ something means to observe.
To ‘not sense’ means to not observe.
We would be foolish to believe a claim without some observation, some reason to believe.

‘Nonsense’ then is the unobserved claim that we would do well to reject until and unless some observable, empirical evidence is available.

That’s why I consigned claims like creationism, reincarnation, crystal healing and astrology to the nonsense camp. They lack empirical evidence to support their most basic explanations and we’d be foolish to accept them without it. They are the products of over-active imaginations that are much more concerned with spinning a good yard than with genuine, observable, painstaking, data collection.

You may not agree with my way of approaching the world but at least now, hopefully, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.

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Methodological naturalism

Let’s be clear…. we’re all scientists. Yes, even the most hardened, dyed in the wool fanatical theist, the ardent supernaturalist and even the creationist. We all rely upon science every day.
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I don’t just mean that we use the obvious technology that science provides such as computers, wristwatches and washing machines. I’m not even going to witter on about the less obvious benefits of science such as plastics and wallpaper paste. These are valid points but the argument, often put to anti-science proponents using the internet, is a little tired these days. I for one have grown tired of pointing out the obvious irony when conversing with creationists, astrologers and alternative therapists etc over electronic social media. Rather I want to talk about everyday assumptions that everyone makes – the beliefs we all must hold if we are to survive in the real world.

The uniformity of nature

Science is a process, not a belief system. It’s a way of exploring the natural observable world by testing explanations of observable events (hypotheses) to see if they can predict what will happen next. The process is remarkably effective (hence the many advances we all rely upon) but only because of science’s underlying assumption:

Nature is predictable and uniform because it operates according to fixed, natural laws.

So the Christian who sees that it’s raining puts on a coat because the predictability, the uniformity of nature means that they will get wet if they don’t. The faith healer sticks to the path at the clifftop because they understand the phenomenon of gravity – and they understand it not because of spiritual enlightenment but because of prior observation of the natural world. In short they keep themselves safe because they use the scientific method. They rely upon the uniformity of nature and the predictable ’cause and effect’ of observed events to make sense of the world and to stay safe. So far so good. We all ‘do science’ when it suits our purposes. I imagine that there’s nothing particularly controversial about that.

But consider the implications of these natural laws. We know that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. That’s the science of space travel. It’s also the science of swimming and of billiards. The natural law is constant (with a few exceptions in specific, equally predictable, non-Newtonian, non-Euclidian contexts that we don’t need to worry about here). What then of divine intervention? What of miracles?

If nature is predictable then there is no place for divine intervention. There is no point then in prayer – it cannot make a difference anyway. Scientists are more than capable of explaining natural events precisely because the natural world is predictable. They can predict the impact of gravity and the wetness of rain precisely because nature is uniform and predictable (and so can we).

When a light bulb expires the theist doesn’t waste time praying for light – they replace the bulb. When the religious fanatic is frightened and alone in the dark they don’t pray for dawn (that would violate natural laws) – they pray that they’ll make it UNTIL dawn. They understand the scientific concepts of heliocentric theory that makes an early dawn impossible, so they don’t pray for it. The thought never even occurs to ask their God for an impossible miracle. So much for the omnipotence of God. So much for the magic of metaphysics.

Until you stop replacing light bulbs and pray for light instead, you’re a scientist. And once you accept the uniformity of nature in one context you undermine the whole idea of divine intervention. From light bulbs to geology, from medicine to evolution the uniformity of nature is constant. And acceptance of that uniformity leaves no place for miracles or for prayer.
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So what’s it to be? Will you pray for healing or accept the antibiotics? Will you call the mechanic or simply ask your omnipotent God to fix the cylinder head gasket? If the Dr., the mechanic, the builder or even the baker has any place in your life then you really can’t deny scientific method. Nature is uniform and prayer is necessarily meaningless as a result.

But don’t just take my word for it. Ask God to suspend gravity and try a different route down from the clifftop. You never know – it might work.
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How we know what to rely upon

Lots of people seem to be very confused about the nature of evidence and the meanings of terms such as ‘theory’, ‘hypothesis’, ‘science’ and ‘nonsense’. So I’ve put together a little table that I hope will be helpful. It might clear up a few misunderstandings.

For example the phrase ‘only a theory’ doesn’t mean it’s not reliable. In fact, in the case of very strong theories such as the theories of evolution or gravity it’s as close to fact as cautious, scientific convention will allow. Creationists beware – you have no idea how silly you appear when you use that particular phrase to try to knock down Darwinian evolution.

I’ve made some amendments to the table below. This is because some people have challenged the ranking of the examples I used in the original. Since the point of this post is to outline the hierarchy itself I’m quite happy to use different illustrations. I may yet make further amendments in the light of scientific evidence for reincarnation which I have been promised and am hoping will actually materialise. Incidentally that’s the main advantage of scientific thinking methods over ‘Just so’ stories like creationism. Scientific thinking involves accepting when the evidence demonstrates that we have been wrong and changing our minds accordingly. That’s why scientific understanding moves on whereas creationism (for example) is essentially making the same, tired arguments that the Rev. William Paley first came up with 200 years ago.

Anyway – I hope this table helps clear up some issues for the hard-of-understanding among us.

If your browser only displays half the table just double click it to see the whole thing.

Evidence hierarchy 2

EDL Sex Offenders List

Stuart Sorensen:

Very timely little blog post, I thought. If all Muslims are paedophiles (as the likes of the EDL claim) then shouldn’t all EDL members be too, by the same (flawed) logic?

Originally posted on Malatesta's Blog:

The EDL Vanity Show in Rotherham goes on as they try to get their faces in the paper and on the telly to show off to their mates in the pub, but their numbers are falling and there are only about 4 or 5 tents left.

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Andrew Edge, the hunger striker, has entered his 2nd week of hunger strike, assisted by only a Twix, some Rolos and a full English breakfast. He is off to jail next week for being an eejit on the EDL 2012 demo in Brum where the EDL started chucking garden furniture at plod who got heavy and left the EDL racists with sore heads. Then, in a massive fit of stupidity, EDL members put footage of them rioting on Youtubw which led to a lot of jail time for them. So, if previous cases are anything to go by, Andrew Edge will be enjoying the…

View original 267 more words

You snooze, you lose!

Thanks for all the interest in the free training. I’m afraid it’s already been snapped up by a group in the West Midlands. The moment has gone, I’m afraid.

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But keep watching. You really never know what might be around the corner.

Free training

Tuesday 9th September 2014 update: Thanks for all the interest but this offer is now closed. A care team in the W. Midlands has kindly offered to let us film there.

Do you work in the UK Midlands? Would you like a free half day training session on self-harm and social care?

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If so please let me know by Emailing info@thecareguy.com (or ask your manager to if it’s not your decision).

You’d need to agree to some or all of the session being filmed for a new TV documentary on mental health care. The training would also need to be delivered before December 2014.

For more information about my training click on the pic above or have a look around http://www.TheCareGuy.com and drop me an Email. I look forward to hearing from you.

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