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hippos in trees

ennui ~ 90% ~ exoself ~ dad ~ lists ~ 42? ~ hippos ~ swap day

People will believe almost anything. Especially if the explanation sounds rational. Obvious absurdity aside ("how's a hippo gonna climb a tree? c'mon!"), it's so easy for us to be tricked. Social media makes it worse. Post-graduate degrees, too.

Justifying the fact that hippos are hiding in trees is an example of a modal fallacy of sorts. It makes sense that if you can't see a hippo in a tree, it might be because it's really good at camouflage -- except that you've accepted a necessary condition ("hippos can hide really well") as the entire set of sufficient conditions. We know it's absurd because hippos can't climb trees, and even if they could, the branches wouldn't hold them for long.

Diet books

I read a book recently about health. It wasn't really about losing weight, but the author was "debunking" some "popular myths." One of those "myths" was familiar to me: "If you eat less calories than you burn, you will lose weight." At some point, I lost track of the author's argument. One calorie is not the same as other calories. Eating certain kinds of foods will prevent you from losing weight, even if you eat fewer calories. You must eat a Mediterranean diet to actually use up body fat.

It's a necessary condition that you must burn body fat to get rid of it, agreed. If you start eating a lot less, you will burn body fat. Low-cal might not be good for you. That's different. But low-cal will cause you to lose weight, as this fine gentleman has proved. There are plenty more examples.

Burning body fat might be easier with a low-GI diet. Low-cal might be harder. Low-GI might be healthier. If that's the case, say so.

Conspiracy theories

Don't get me started. Coincidence is not fact, and not every theory that fits the facts you do have is true. For example, "the sky is blue because space is blue".

"I saw something. It was in the sky. It moved too fast to be man-made. It had weird lights. It vanished very suddenly, after making a high-speed right turn at supersonic speeds. Aliens are real."

Let's contrast this with careful observations:

"I saw something in the sky. It was moving. It seemed to be moving very fast. It had lights. It turned very sharply and disappeared. That's all I know."

So many leaps of logic:

  • How did you know it was too fast to be man-made?
  • Did you actually know how fast it was going?
  • What made the lights "weird"?
  • What did you mean by "disappeared suddenly"? How fast did that happen?
  • How did you know it turned right, was that with respect to you?
  • How did you know it turned at supersonic speed?
  • Why does seeing this object indicate that aliens are real?

It happens every day in all kinds of situations.

Social media makes it worse

I've largely given up social media because:

  1. It encourages a herd mentality: if one person saw it, everyone in their group who wants to be "cool" goes along with, especially if it gets attention from others.
  2. Once you publicly "buy in" to a position, meme, theory, or way of thinking, it's hard to back down, so you go deeper into the mud and get stuck there.

It's just not for me. I log on occasionally to look at pictures of my grandkids; that's about it.

No grand solution

I don't have a marvellous solution for this, or some sage advice. I'm just pointing out that it happens, and encouraging others to take account of this when you think. Don't fall for incomplete evidence or succumb to the peers of your herd. Think for yourself.

Changed 2022-11-10 Thu 09:03 in Crane Creek.
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