Link blog: gaming, oxbridge, cambridge, tv

The Stuff Of Knightmare | Featured Article | The Gameological Society
“Knightmare ran for eight years and 112 episodes. At the height of the program’s popularity, 5 million viewers tuned in every week. It remains one of the most fondly remembered children’s shows on British television, 25 years after the first episode was broadcast.” Great article on a top TV programme from my youth.
(tags: games knightmare gaming tv)
The Oxbridge delusion: why the more we talk about these two great universities, the less we know – Comment – Voices – The Independent
“Worse still is when journalists, comedians and television producers casually use Oxbridge as a byword for ‘elitist’ – and not elitist in the benevolent, meritocratic sense, but in the loaded dice sense. It politicises and toxifies Oxbridge, dragging it down into the national mood of resentment. The Guardian website even has a whole education section helpfully entitled ‘Oxbridge and elitism’ just in case the message ‘it’s not for people like you’ was too subtle.”
(tags: university education oxbridge oxford cambridge)
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Fear and faith: Derren Brown and the Confusion

Glen Scrivener, who blogs at Christ the Truth, recently watched Derren Brown’s Fear and Faith programme. In it, Brown apparently converts (or at least induces a religious experience in) a staunch atheist, a biologist called Natalie. Brown used this as a jumping off point for an argument that we don’t need to invoke a god to explain religious experiences. Glen’s posting argued that the existence of fakes doesn’t disprove the existence of the genuine article.

Blah blah blah Bayes

I commented that Brown would go too far if he claimed that an ability to reproduce religious experiences means there’s no God, but he could use it to negate the value of religious experience as evidence for God’s existence. If it is trivial for people who aren’t God to produce such experiences, then they are about as likely to occur in a world without God as they are in a world with a God, so they aren’t good evidence. Glen tried a variant of the Argument from Wife, saying that his belief in his wife’s existence is not invalidated because of his feelings about her. But this doesn’t work, since he presumably saw and heard her and so believed she existed prior to having feelings for her, so the causality isn’t backwards, as it is when Christians point to feelings from God as evidence for God’s existence.

Then I watched the programme on Channel 4’s website. In it, we see Brown convert Natalie in what looks like a church, with 15 minutes of chat about her father and tapping on the table to “anchor” certain feelings. He leaves her alone (except for the cameras, of course) for a bit, at which point she stands up and bursts into tears, speaking about how sorry she is and wishing she could have had this feeling all her life. Well, that about wraps it up for God, right?

Hang on a sec…

Something’s gone wrong with everyone’s argument here, and I probably should have spotted it before I watched the programme, because I’ve written about Derren Brown before. Can you spot it? Have a think for a moment, then read on.

Christian and atheists alike were assuming that Brown can convert someone in 15 minutes with NLP (and then arguing about what that means for God-belief). We’ve been taken in. It was a trick! Nobody can really produce a conversion experience in 15 minutes in the way we’re supposed to believe he did. Brown’s tricks don’t work by using NLP (because NLP doesn’t work so dramatically, if indeed it works at all, which I rather doubt). Remember, the bit at the end of the trick where he shows you how he did it using NLP (though he never uses the phrase) to implant suggestions in people’s minds is itself misdirection, part of his act.

I should have realised that, because I’ve had a similar conversation about Brown before, with an NLP believer on Less Wrong. See also Ferretbrain’s Derren Brown is a Liar and this discussion on the show: pjc229 has it right.

The bit at the end with the moral of today’s episode

That little “something doesn’t make sense” feeling is something you want to train yourself to listen to: as Saunt Yudkowsky says, your strength as a rationalist is your ability to be more confused by fiction than by reality. At the point where someone claims to be able to produce religious conversion experiences after 15 minutes of chat about fathers and tapping on the table, you should be feeling confused; not trying to defend religion as if the story Brown’s telling really happened and you had to explain how it doesn’t really threaten Christianity, or attacking religion as if Brown had shown it was bunk (these are like Yudkowsky trying to defend the paramedics in his story).

I must congratulate Brown on getting me seriously debating whether he’d provided a contribution to the psychology of religion, though. The man’s a genius. I wish I knew how he did it (pjc229’s suggestions about what Natalie saw not being what we saw must have something to do with it, I guess).

(None of which is to say that there aren’t satisfying psychological explanations for religious experiences which remove the need to invoke gods, of course, just that we shouldn’t go to magicians for that kind of evidence).

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Link blog: medicine, death, ted, intensive-care

Peter Saul: Let’s talk about dying | Video on TED.com
“We can’t control if we’ll die, but we can “occupy death,” in the words of Dr. Peter Saul. He calls on us to make clear our preferences for end of life care — and suggests two questions for starting the conversation.”
(tags: intensive-care ted medicine death)
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