The Zero Effect Fallacy: problems with modern knowledge and the mechanized self

Two friends are talking about crazy medical treatments. The first one, Freddy, is full of enthusiasm and energy, saying "I bet if you rub carrots on your eyeballs, it will fix your near-sightedness!" Seeing Freddy caught up in yet another flawed pharmaceutical fad, the second friend, Nelson, adjusts his glasses and responds disdainfully: "No way, idiot. Rubbing carrots on your eyes does literally nothing to fix myopia. It’s totally useless!" Who’s right, and which attitude is more scientific?

In modern pop-science culture, positive statements ("carrots help your eyes") receive scrutiny and criticism while negative statements ("carrots don’t help your eyes at all") are given a free pass. But negative statements of the form "X does literally nothing" are extremely difficult to prove. The problems is that modern industrialized science tend to be highly reductionist, taking complex problems with millions of dimensions and reducing them down to a mere handful for the sake of testability and convenience. However, whatever works for convenience in application isn’t sufficient to give us a true and final answer in theory. It just means that, according to the dimensions that we chose to investigate, at that particular time, with those particular instruments, and with these methods and caveats, we weren’t able to measure an effect. It isn’t a conclusion to our investigation at all.

Most reasonable pop-science fanboys will agree with the previous paragraph in theory, but in practice, we still see this attitude, which I will call the "zero effect fallacy," show up very often in contemporary conversations. Here are some examples of what I mean by the "zero effect fallacy":

"Showing scary movies in the classroom has no influence on kids’ behaviors."

"Eating animal testicles does literally nothing to improve your health."

"Repeatedly kicking trees with your shins doesn’t do anything to strengthen your bones."

The zero effect fallacy is the false idea that you have proven the null hypothesis to be true. But this is an irrational leap of faith. A failure to prove an alternative hypothesis doesn’t mean you’ve successfully proved the opposite. This false equivalency has led to a disaster of moderate severity for truth-lovers in our generation.

Why is the zero effect fallacy so common among middle-class, white collar, moderately-educated science fans? Part of it is due to specific metaphysical assumptions of the human self which have become popular in our modern age: primarily the idea of the human as a stony, machine-like, atomized, modular Cartesian soul that is hardly influenced by its external environment. In this view of the human self, the human is always an active agent, never a passive receiver, and hardly changes or is affected by anything other than what it rationally chooses for itself. Any influencing power requires strong forces that are always consciously recognized. Mental and bodily phenomena are reduced to a rational, mechanistic processes of cause and effect, and these causal chains are very short, easily detected, don’t influence each other, and terminate quickly.

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You already believe in God: a concise and modern argument

You heard me. You already believe in God. Atheism is logically impossible. Why? Because the definition of God is so broad and wide-reaching that it is essentially impossible to disbelieve. If you live in the modern West, you cannot exempt yourself from this, unless perhaps if you are: 1. a traditional Buddhist (no, shitty individualized English sutra-recitation doesn’t count), 2. a real nihilist (of whom there are very few), or 3. a radical ultra-skeptic (you do not qualify for this title if you browse Reddit or watch Rick & Morty).

So what’s a decent definition of God? Let’s start with what the Bhagavad Gita says:

I am the goal of life … I am the beginning, the staying, and the end of creation … I am what is and what is not.”

There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.”

We can see here at least four things identifiable with God: the purpose of life, the entirety of the universe, Existence itself, and Absolute truth. What does this mean for atheism? It means that if you believe in any of these things, you believe in God. This is not something that most people can choose to disbelieve in. Although there are many who claim that human life has no meaning, there are few who are willing to say that the universe has no origin, that Existence does not exist, or that truth is not truth. Western atheism is, fundamentally, not about belief or disbelief but about definitions. If you believe that there is existence, you must believe in God.

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Why “The Stanley Parable” Sucks and the Problem of Engineer Philosophy

adventure line

For a game that claims to be about free choice and determinism, The Stanley Parable sure fails on every account to engage in a meaningful philosophical dialogue. It makes me sad to see such a potentially compelling narrative medium wasted on a boring, pretentious, and unambitious storyline. The game is cute and a little funny, but that’s all it ever ends up being. It tries very hard to be deep and clever and philosophical, but the writing makes it pretty clear that the author hasn’t read a single hard book in his life. What good is “intellectual humor” written by a non-intellectual?

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Madoka is a terrible philosophical trainwreck, with spoilers

Madoka sucks.

I know what you’re thinking. Man, come on, Madoka came out what — ten years ago? And during those ten years it’s been completely uncontested as the greatest anime of all time. I’ve loved this show and made it part of my LIFE. I own the Madoka figurines. I buy the Madoka posters. I wear the Madoka t-shirts. If you cut me open and looked into the bloody guts spilling out of me they would spell out the words M A D O K A MAGICA. Uh, in Japanese, of course. In all of my years I haven’t seen a single good objection to Madoka Magica — not even one! — so why is your random blog post going to be different?

madoka t shirt

Okay, guy, you might have a point. But hear me out: Madoka Magica is entertaining, sure, but it’s philosophically incoherent. It’s like eating spaghetti with ketchup instead of tomato sauce. It’s like adding vinegar to your morning breakfast cereal. There are so many bits and pieces of the show that would probably stand reasonably well as independent stories, but when combined, they become an inconsistent mismash of incompatible and mutually exclusive moral messages. Spoilers follow, but I’m assuming that if you’re at this point in the reading that you’ve either seen the show already or aren’t concerned if I spoil it for you.

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