Monthly Archives: January 2011

Neil Tyson and the Argument From Ignorance

The frailty of the human mind: just another reason to remain skeptical.

I recently found this video of Neil Tyson explaining the fallacious appeal to ignorance.

As Tyson explains with his unique humor, the appeal to ignorance pervades all of human nature. The appeal to ignorance, also called the argument from ignorance or argumentum ad ignorantiam, often entails a subtle detail that can completely change the conclusion of an argument: the fact that you often cannot explain what you see.

Eyewitness testimony is the lowest form of evidence in science and logic. Despite the many abilities of the human mind, it still falls for the simplest of tricks. In fact, the most often reported UFOs turn out to be the planet Venus. Real science recognizes such human error and accounts for it by requiring empirical evidence in support of any claim.

This fallacy takes two forms:

  1. There is no evidence against p, therefore, p.
  2. There is no evidence for p, therefore, not-p.

The former is most often found in UFO sightings, ghost sightings, and supporting arguments of intelligent design. This is such a simple fallacy, yet it pervades every corner of our life. I’m often amazed at the conclusions people come to when they should actually draw no conclusions at all. This appeal to ignorance even affects how we think others perceive us.

In any case, I’d be impressed if you could catch every time an appeal to ignorance is made, even in your own life. It seems like we draw conclusions from thin air so many times per day that we rarely have a real foundation for what we believe.

Facebook & Video Games: An Introduction to the Narrative Fallacy

“I am a god. Level ten all alone!”

My brother’s face glowed blue from the television as he completed another level in the Call of Duty minigame. The fact that most people sleep at 3 a.m. didn’t phase his concentration as he simultaneously killed zombies and trashed talked his friends. His confidence rose as he continued to level up.

Social video games have exploded in recent years, and scientists have been trying to understand how they affect our brains. A review of the literature seems to reveal that the pattern recognition and resource management required to play most games will exercise a gamer’s cognitive functioning. In teenagers, active participation in social networks helps in the formation of a unique identity.

Does this justify playing video games? The short answer is no, for two primary reasons: the narrative fallacy and the nerd effect.

Continue reading