9m x 1.6m SS Octopus 1May 2015
There's a basic flaw in our thinking process, a software error:
Instead of accepting that we don't know the 'why' of something, we seem to have to have some explanation, even if it's quite obviously wrong by even the most basic tests.
"The gods must be appeased" and "evil spirits" have been two popular theories of everything for most of human history.
The wholesale ritual human sacrifice and witch lynching's that were endemic in almost all early-era religions and civilisations are a consequence of these.
Nor, as we've acquired better understanding of life, the universe and everything, have we stopped being passionate believers in things that are overwhelmingly not true:
All religions are in this category, but also things like epidemic gluten intolerance, 'natural' medicine quackery, and our penchant for conspiracy theories.
Why are we so susceptible to taking up beliefs that are obvious nonsense and resistant to relinquishing them even in the face of overwhelming contrary evidence?
20m x 3.2m SS Octopus
Consider the case of a sick child that an entire congregation prays for. The child then dies in distressing pain, but the congregation's belief in the power of prayer remains unshaken- no matter how many times this happens! An astonishing amount of intellectual effort that could have been better employed has spent the last 2000 years trying to explain this one away.
We get captured by utopian theories and then refuse to relinquish them in the face of overwhelming evidence that they aren't working. Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot demonstrated beyond any possible doubt that socialism is a really bad idea- their programs of collectivisation and state control of everything killed off around 80millions directly and drove their respective countries into misery- and yet socialism is still the ideology of choice for many people today.
Evolutionary biology suggests tentative answers:
One is that there's a survival advantage in the positive attitude that derives from believing you know why something has happened- even if wrongly- rather than passively accepting the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.
Another is that shared beliefs confer social cohesiveness to groups that has a survival benefit outweighing any disadvantages that flow from them being wrong.
But I wonder whether it could be just a simple software error that snuck in sometime in our fairly recent evolutionary history: Like the chronic lower back pain caused by our adaption to upright posture, or birthing difficulties caused by babies with ever bigger heads, it could just be that our programming, though far from ideal, is not terminal.
Ray 1 Wakanui 4 May 2015
Whichever, but that we are screwed up in this respect is a fact, so we should factor this in to how we go about things.
One minor way this is already being done is pedestrian buttons at intersections. Many of these aren't connected to anything during busy periods- but traffic engineers know that the expectation that they have some input makes people behave better, thereby improving safety.
Another is thermostats in large offices- these are also frequently disconnected, but by allowing inmates to believe that they can change things, make for less angst- and people do actually report feeling warmer or colder after the dial is turned, even when there's no actual difference.
Placebos also. When people believe that they are getting a particular drug, in many cases they do actually improve, even when they've actually received a placebo. Doctors have been using this effect since at least classical times.
And this is where it gets really weird; some people improve even when they know it's a placebo - and according to a report I just read on a science website, this is genetically predictable- those who react this way have marker genes that distinguish them.
Which all suggests that a capacity for self delusion has not prevented our developing and thriving as a species- and may at times have even been advantageous.
But not anymore.
Until the last 2000 years or so, competing religions and ideologies rarely came into contact with each other, and when they did, the resulting brutal clash, was never an existential threat to our species- or the planet.
Now that it is, we just can't afford the risks our propensity for self-delusion on a national scale poses.
It would also help our world a lot if individuals were held to account or at least held in contempt for believing arrant nonsense (which is pretty much everything that's 'faith' based), because they make rational government almost impossible.
But we can't just un-install this defective program, not yet at least, though we can overide it if we really try.
Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding father, showed the way;
His guiding principle wasn't a religion, nor was it any particular ideology, left or right.
Rather it was "whatever works".
In 1965 Singapore's gdp/capita was the same as Ghana's, now it is three times New Zealands. This should be evidence enough for everyone as to how much better the outcomes are when public policy is not held prisoner to dogma.
20m x 3.2m SS Octopus
And kites of course- however can our understanding of these essential playthings be advanced against the tide of wilful self-delusion except by applying Mr Lee's principle?
Kite fliers are as subject to believing things that aren't true as anyone.
Not me though; I have the theory of single line kite stability nailed- can reliably predict what effect any particular change will have.
Like hell I can; sometimes the only way I can get badly behaving kites to fly is by trying what my current theories suggests, and the opposite.
This is as difficult for me to do as not bopping bureaucrats who use the Nuremburg defence ("I'm just doing my job"), or not exploding when someone says that unions are a public good rather than just a self serving group advantaging themselves relative to everyone else- and screwing their country while doing so.
It's REALLY difficult- because it's admitting that the cherished theories of single line kite stability that I've spent a life time developing don't always hold.
But it's the approach that gets results.
20 x 3.2 Octopus Wakanui 22_May 2015
My new single skin Octopus kite design was not flying satisfactorily: Pretty good in strong winds, in light winds it would fall-off *slowly but inexorably to one side or the other. I tried many possible cures; (see April/May SS development at peterlynnhimself.com), but nothing helped, and it seemed that this design was destined to be just another good idea that wasn't. Despair.
Then, against theory, I increased the camber in the middle sections of the head, and the problem disappeared. This change has cost some top end, but, until a better solution is found, flying under a pilot restores the upper range, as I suspect adding a drogue will. Its phenomenal light wind flying- significantly better than any pilot kite now in use, and closing in on Genkis- is well worth the price anyway.
Success! Thank you Mr Lee.
So 'whatever works' is the new theory of everything.
Um, but haven't I just convinced you that theories are the problem not the solution?
PETER LYNN, KELANTAN, JUNE 1 '15.
PS. The first single skin Flag and single skin Ray kites are both subject to falling-off, like the Octopus did before head camber was increased; maybe this is characteristic of the type. I haven't yet tried the same cure for either of these, but suspect they won't be as responsive because of the higher aspect ratio (width relative to length) of their heads.
* Suggested new technical term.