Russell Brand’s Revolution And The Conspiracy Theory Link.

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Conspiracy theories and exponents of revolution have many holes in their arguments, even when they’re not as poorly made and detached from reality as when Russell Brand makes them. One of the main problems though, could be the mindset of the individual making all the noise themselves. Putting the word theorist after conspiracy doesn’t then mean that an opinion becomes a testable hypotheses or is worth being taken seriously. Calling yourself a revolutionary doesn’t then mean you know what you’re talking about, have a good heart, have the answers, or indeed, any solution at all. In Brand’s case, I don’t doubt that what he says comes from a good place, and I agree there needs to be a change in the way we live together in the world, but it needs to be actionable and not just polemic that satisfies the idealistic – which is very difficult in the real world. I don’t discount everything he says, indeed, I’m impressed that he cares at all given his extremely privileged position as he might stand to lose out most. But, I’m skeptical of much of what he says for a few reasons.

One of the main problems if you identify as a conspiracy theorist, or an anarchist, or revolutionary, is that you tend to be against the ‘official’ narrative, whatever it is. It’s also possible that you’d object to many of the official verdicts surrounding unrelated events, even before there’s anything to object to, because you’ve primed yourself to. Another issue is the notion that you have to be open-minded to any alternative, whatever that option might be, even if it’s nonsense. However, without stretching the imagination, there are some theories that potentially have grains of truth to them: That aggressive financial lobbying for oil may have contributed in part to the Iraq war, or that the government are watching everything we do aren’t too far-fetched. There’s definitely a correlation between resources and war. And the government (and the media) are surely watching some of us, they have the technology, hopefully they’re focussing on terrorists though, but not me, I’m not interesting enough…. but maybe that’s what they want me to think!

A glaring worry here is that even if the idea is patently ridiculous, such as the belief that there was no moon landing (you must see Prof Brian Cox’s reaction), or that global warming is a government plot, people might be inclined to believe them, and their opinion becomes the norm: In short, you’re so open-minded that your brain falls out. This in turn leads to the conspiracy theorist often being more closed-minded than those they accuse of wearing blinkers. This is in part due to a rigid obedience to an overarching anti-authority attitude, and which people like Charlie Veitch who change their mind in such circles are vilified and threatened for deviating from. The notion that there must be something more sinister at play, and importantly that it must have been intentional rather than random is also prominent; A phenomenon psychologists call attribution error. Because of this, anything you want to cite as evidence propping up your theory doesn’t really need to be evidence, it just needs to fit with your particular schema, so things become proof through necessity, rather than them actually proving anything. And anything that is contrary to your view is discounted as merely part of the cover up or the establishment’s narrative.

Take 9/11. Many people, potentially even Brand by his own admission believe, for whatever reason, that the USA blew up the twin towers. Since then many other conspiracy theories abound regarding the USA’s part as an intentional and nefarious actor in many other domestic and foreign affairs. Many people concluded the Boston bombing was the work of the CIA, even before there was any evidence to go by. Alex Jones (who also knew Charlie Vietch mentioned previously, and made a film calling him a “psychopath” with “sociopath eyes” just for changing his views) at Info Wars in particular cites two men dressed in ‘off duty’ Seal attire as proof that it was an inside job, even before anyone really knew what was going on. And that’s what I’m talking about: Two men dressed in a particular way became evidence to fit the pre-existing mould of governmental suspicion, rather than actually being evidence in favour of any explanation of the event in question. By the way, I’m not saying don’t be suspicious of the government, we should be, we should hold them to account, but reasonably so.

The final problem is that people who claim to be the archetype of open-mindedness (whatever that looks like) could be, in their own way, just finding another source of information to swallow hook line and sinker. The lure of celebrity is powerful (it’s why I used a picture of Brand in this post and probably the only reason you’re reading this), and when someone so passionate seems to be fighting the good fight, then they must be right every time…. mustn’t they? In fact, some research shows that there is a link between conspiracy theories and feelings of political powerlessness and a reduced intention to engage in politics, so it might not be such a coincidence that Brand espouses both. It might actually be fear and despair that Brand is unintentionally stoking, rather than revolution and reform.

It requires a huge amount of cognitive effort and attention, as well as an ability to constantly critique one’s own biases (which can be uncomfortable) to do all of the research on every issue you might be interested in. Thus, it’s much easier to watch the apparently open-minded Brand on the Trews because he mirrors your expectations, and I actually believe has good intentions. But be wary, you might actually be relying on being spoon fed by such people, rather than actually do the research, vet the sources (including Brand, and governmental mouth pieces), be critical, and truly come to your own conclusions in line with what is evidenced beyond reasonable doubt.

The NUS And Islamic State: Why Islamophobia And Imperialism Shouldn’t Mean Pacifism.

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The National Union of Students (NUS) won’t condemn Islamic State (IS), because it would be Islamophobic to do so, despite the proposal being tendered by a student of Kurdish descent. This tells us quite a bit about ‘Islamophobia,’ and the associated post-colonial rhetoric that stifles discourse on these issues, ultimately forcing people to be tolerant of the intolerant… lest they be branded intolerant. It also tells us that gross generalisations occur on both sides of an argument even by those claiming to be addressing them. Read the rest of this entry

Atheaholics Anonymous

Dear Member:

Thank you for showing an interest in our society. We really appreciate the time you took to speak to us and hope you will enjoy being part of our community here at UCLan. We will be having our first event this Wednesday 24.09.14 at 7pm entitled “Atheaholics Anonymous” where we will all be able to get to know each other better. Please meet us outside the Student’s Union.

Please take the time to look at our Facebook PageFacebook GroupTwitter Feed, and Website. Also, why not check out Project Science and Reason to see some of our past events.

Thanks again, and we look forward to seeing you all soon.

Kind Regards,

Glen (Chair)

 

Atheaholics Anonymous.

Moral Reasoning Research – What Will You Do?

I am a Masters by Research (MRES) student at the University of Central Lancashire under the supervision of Dr Lea Pilgrim, Dr Andrew Churchill, and Dr Mike Eslea. The following experiment asks you to fill in some basic demographic information, respond to a series of moral dilemmas and then complete a short questionnaire about personality traits. We anticipate this will take you approximately 25 minutes. We would ask you not to participate if you are under the age of 18. This study was ethically cleared by UCLan PSYSOC Ethics Committee under Reference Number: PSYSOC 159.

The dilemmas in some instances require you to make very difficult decisions which would involve the ‘death’ of hypothetical individuals described in the dilemma. Certain dilemmas also require you to make judgments on drug administration in a healthcare setting. Therefore we would advise that you do not participate if you think this may cause you distress. The personality questionnaire consists of over 60 questions that need to be answered honestly, and which look at how you feel about yourself, how you behave, and how you interact with others and the world around you such as: “I easily get bored.” You can withdraw your participation at any time by simply closing the browser window, after clicking the submit button withdrawal becomes impossible as your data will be anonymous.

The data we collect will be submitted for publication in a scientific journal and used in academic presentations and talks. You will not be able to be identified from the data due to its anonymity. Please feel free to contact the researchers with any questions.

If you are happy to proceed please indicate your willingness to do so, by clicking HERE.

Regards,Glen Andrew Carrigan, MBPsS | Senior Demonstrator | Bsc (Hons) Neuropsychology | Darwin Building 133 | GACarrigan@uclan.ac.ukDr Lea Pilgrim | Director of Studies | LPilgrim@uclan.ac.uk

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Hemispheric Differences in Facial Recognition

Poster (1)

This study has been ethically approved by The University of Central Lancashire.

Thank you for your interest in taking part in this study. I am a Graduate Diploma student conducting a project on hemispheric differences in facial recognition. For the task, faces will be presented on a computer screen. You will have to make a ‘same’ or ‘different’ judgment and press a button that reflects your choice. Your age and gender will be recorded.

Please be aware that you have the right to withdraw from this experiment at any point during the study. Due to the method of data collection, results will remain anonymous. Once you leave the laboratory, your data will be combined with previously collected data and therefore not possible to assign to a specific participant. As a result, once data has been submitted, it cannot be returned. Only the researcher, supervisor and examining body will see raw data.

If you still wish to participate in this experiment, please let the researcher know: Kimberley Ward: KWard1@uclan.ac.uk. If you wish to withdraw at this point, thank you for your time. Research slots are available from 9:00am – 11:00am. The experiment takes 10 minutes to complete.

 

Kimberley Ward

 

Moral, religious, psychopathic, or just human?

Glen Carrigan looks at the science of morality

Original article at British Humanist Association 07.07.2014

Science, increasingly, is answering questions which before only philosophers could attempt

Why doesn’t Microsoft Word recognise the word ‘Neuropsychology?’ Maybe because it’s a rather new field, although people have been musing on the workings of the physical brain for a very long time indeed – don’t worry though, we’re not trepanning people anymore!

My interest is the moral brain, how humans – and other animals to some degree – draw the distinction between right and wrong to organise society. Some argue that moral standards are axiomatic and that moral compasses come from god. There actually seems to be some truth to this, in that some absolutist standards like Thou Shalt Not Kill or the Golden Rule seem to be very intuitive – as is the notion that you’re somehow a social pariah if you play World of Warcraft. A paper by Baumard and Boyer called “Explaining Moral Religions” shows just how universal this is.

Is the Golden Rule any good though? Maybe, but you’re making your own narrow individual experience the basis for how you treat others. Wouldn’t it be better to ask them how they’d like to be treated? This should indeed be the case for issues such as assisted dying, where holding to Thou Shalt Not Kill diminishes the dignity and autonomy of a feeling, reflecting being. To hold dogmatic moral views also only works if you believe in god and that at least in some religions, you’re good to escape punishment in the hereafter, rather than for the sake of the here and now.

Far from being divine in origin, there seems to be a wealth of evidence showing us that being an individual yet social animal, with a big (relative to body size) and healthy brain, necessitates certain behaviours for us to flourish in a group. This then, gives rise to our need to discuss and reflect upon what it means to be a moral agent. You can see similar intuitive behavioural patterns to our own in other animals that operate in social groups. A wonderful example is the reciprocal behaviour of vampire bats, who seem to understand that a good deed (donating a regurgitated blood meal – stomach churning I know) deserves repayment. There is much converging evidence in evolutionary psychology that points to animals being the origin of their own ‘moral’ codes. But there are driving forces behind being a good egg other than reciprocity.

Throughout history philosophers have struggled with what constitutes the virtuous act. We notice that certain behaviours are predictable and wrong such as rape and rightly condemn people for it. We also need to accept that we make choices – if we have free will – and should be responsible for them. The fact that certain prohibitions are intuitive might suggest an in-built moral acquisition and refinement device (MARD) which is nurtured by social experience, emotion and reflection, rather than an omnipotent law giver. Perhaps we are actually responsible for the holy books that seek to have us tow the moral line – although we were managing to beforehand – in any event we seem to be the only species we know of that spends a great deal of time writing books telling ourselves to be good, that we’re special, and that we should be humble about it!

Neuropsychology can perhaps tell us a bit about this MARD and how we think, rather than what we should think here: We establish the social norms after all and what acts constitute deviance. The archetypal Psychopath seems to be deviant to many of us and this is why I study them. The fact is that we all have psychopathic traits along a spectrum; it’s just that some people have more pronounced, what the majority consider to be, morally deviant tendencies. Neuropsychology shows us that Psychopaths seem to have diminished empathic concern, as well as, fail to notice the importance of intention in a harmful act. Since it’s us that establish that intention to cause harm is worse than an accident (the difference between murder and manslaughter) we view psychopaths as morally deviant in society – perhaps their MARD is broken?

People often panic here and think that if we can predict someone will think and perhaps behave murderously then the notion of choice in society falls apart. It might, if you want Neuroscience to strip us of our humanity. In my view, although we could see why such people might be like this, that doesn’t mean they walk away scot free. What matters is that we discuss our options reflectively and organise society around us as moral beings that makes choices, with a sense of responsibility, and who can be punished for transgressions, rather than allowing my brain made me do it as an alibi in all cases where mental instability is an issue. It’s also worth pointing out that most psychopaths actually don’t run around murdering people like Heath Ledger in Batman!

Adults Only! Festival of the Spoken Nerd, and Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails

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The University of Central Lancashire is hosting Lancashire Science Festival again this year! After our huge success last year with Titan the robot and Matt Dickinson’s Science of Star Wars amongst a whole host of other fantastic events, the public are gearing up to experience all things science yet again.

This year we have some special late night, adults only events, because adults love science too! Festival of the Spoken Nerd features Helen Arney, a geeky songstress, Matt Parker a stand-up mathematician (maths can be funny?), and the BBC’s Steve Mould. This will be an excellent show, having met Helen Arney before, I was blown away with her perfect blend of music, wit, science and satire… and the glasses too – an act you just can’t miss!

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Our second adults only event is Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails. Have you ever wondered about the physiology of booze? Well, why don’t you join science-mixologist Noel Jackson to find out what exactly goes on in your favourite drink – we all know what happens after you’ve drank it…. never again! Ticket price includes 5 cocktails, of which you’ll get an amazing hangover-free cocktail!

Festival of the Spoken Nerd
Thursday 26 June 2014, 1930, 53Degrees, UCLan
Quote ‘FOTSN’ for discounted tickets at £11.00 + booking fee (down from £15.00)

Surgical Spirit: The Science of Cocktails
Friday 27 June 2014, 1930, Foster Building, UCLan
Quote ‘Surgical Spirit Discount’ for Tickets at £15.00 + booking fee, includes 5 cocktails (down from £20)

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An Evening of Science and Reason in Pictures

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Top TV Scientist Draws a Crowd at UCLan

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Glen Carrigan, Masters by research student UCLan School of Psychology, palaeontologist Dr Robert Asher, associate lecturer in computer aided engineering at UCLan Matt Dickinson and Television presenter Dr George McGavin.

Written by: Rachel Atkinson, 09 June 2014, original article.

The BBC’s Dr George McGavin was the headline speaker at a science event.

One of the country’s top entomologists drew a crowd at a public lecture at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan).

Television presenter Dr George McGavin, who is a regular contributor to the BBC’s One Show, was the headline speaker at the Evening of Science and Reason.

He was joined at the free student led event by Dr Robert Asher and UCLan’s Matt Dickinson. All three talks were designed to highlight scientific discovery and ethical living in a modern world.

Dr McGavin, who has recently presented Monkey Planet for BBC1, gave a talk entitled Insects: Sex, violence and a cast of billions. Dr Asher, a palaeontologist specialising in mammals, presented Evolution, Reason, and Religion and Matt Dickinson talked about The Science of Superheroes.

Organiser Glen Carrigan, who is a Masters by Research Student in UCLan’s School of Psychology, said: “An Evening of Science and Reason was a huge success. With Matt Dickinson showing us how his fully functional iron man helmet worked, Dr Robert Asher weighing up his religious belief whilst being a palaeontologist and Dr George McGavin telling us how much sex insects have whilst he threw melons around the room, there truly was something for everyone.”

“I set up this project in order to stimulate scientific and ethical debate, and feel that this aim was definitely achieved. We hope to hold more events like this in the future and wish to thank all of our guests and fantastic volunteers for coming along.”

Cameron The King: We’re Christian, or if not Christian, just not non-religious. God Forbid!

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Cameron The King

David Cameron has recently been playing politics with religion, namely by calling Britain a Christian country and elucidating an ambition to “expand the role of faith based organisations,” and I thought it was Chris the King, not Cameron! It cannot be doubted that much of our culture, art and history derives from Christianity, but to call the country Christian is nonsense, perhaps post-Christian would be better. This has led to Cameron’s assertion being challenged by many concerned members of the public.

This country has many faith groups and those who have none; the latter are usually wholly overlooked though. The 2013 British Social Attitudes Survey records 48% of the entire nation’s population identify as non-religious. Add all of the Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, Baha’i and other religious communities to this and it is extremely divisive to claim that somehow Christianity must maintain its prominence in Great Britain.

Read the rest of this entry

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