I was wrong

iwaswrongFellow blogger, Steve Morris, did a post on the importance of admitting when you’re wrong.  He finished up his post with this challenge:

So I had the amazing/stupid idea of putting this into practice on more formal terms. I propose to create an international Admit You’re Wrong Day.

As many of you are bloggers, I challenge you to have a go yourselves. It might be therapeutic, if it doesn’t leave you looking like a complete idiot.

In the spirit of that challenge, I thought I’d do a post on things I’d changed my mind about since blogging about them, that I now think I was wrong about.  As I commented on Steve’s post, if you’re not changing any of your views over time, then you’ve stopped listening and thinking.  When we publish our opinions, we run the risk of locking them in, and creating a self made ego trap.  Hopefully this is a small step against me doing that.

First, let me be clear that I’ve changed my mind about a lot of things over the years.  My views on politics, religion, history, science, and many other things have changed dramatically over my adult life.  But most of that happened before I started this blog.  In many ways, I’m glad I never had much opportunity to publish my views when I was younger, since it would have put me in the position of having a lot more to recant.  But I only started in November 2013, so this list won’t be too long.  (Who knows.  It might be much longer in the future.)

So here goes!

My early posts were highly skeptical of things like conscious qualia, thinking that it was mostly an illusion.   A lot of that view had come from reading Daniel Dennett and Susan Blackmore.  But after additional reading in neuroscience, notably the work of Michael Graziano and Michael Gazzaniga, I now think that was hasty.  My current view is that consciousness, qualia, sentience, is a data processing architecture, and that we’ll need to understand it if we ever hope to give it to machines.

I’ve noted in multiple posts the common scholarly belief that ancient pre-Axial age religions didn’t have a moral aspect.  I got this from reading numerous articles and books.  But I’m now tending to think, based on the work of Ara Norenzayan, Robert Bellah, and many others, that this is a scholarly myth, that ancient religions did have a moral aspect, although what they considered to be the right and proper way to live might horrify us in many cases.

I expressed skepticism of the need for the US becoming involved in the fight against the Islamic State (ISIS or ISIL).  I still think my reasoning in that post was sound, but ISIS has shown itself to be so barbaric, so opposed to basic civilization, and so interested in spreading their medieval ideology of hate, that I’m much more sympathetic to the idea than I was at the time.  I still think a lot of caution is called for though.

I was probably too strident in dismissing fine tuning problems in physics.  I still think many of them are simply looking at things backwards (i.e. the universe isn’t fine tuned for us; having evolved in it, we’re fine tuned to it), but some of the coincident physical constants and properties seem to be amazingly improbable, and demand scientific investigation.  That said, I find God and multiverses both problematic as possible explanations.  One strikes me as “God of the gaps” theology, and the other as anti-theist counter-apologetics.  Both seem like “just so” stories.

These are the mea culpas I can think of right now.  There are undoubtedly more.  This is my 647th post on this blog, so I’m sure I’m missing some other cases where I changed my mind.  But these are the ones I’ve been meaning to mention for a while.  That said, if you’ve noticed any inconsistency in prior posts, please let me know.

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8 Responses to I was wrong

  1. Wyrd Smythe says:

    We tend to have a double-edged sword with public figures on this matter. If they do change their mind, we ding them for having been wrong before and for changing their mind. If they don’t change their mind, we ding them for refusing to change in the face of new evidence.

    Frankly, the only people I truly respect are those whose knowledge and understanding does evolve and grow, so bravo for you! (To the extent I do get things right these days, it comes from having been so wrong on so much in the past. Sometimes it takes a 2×4, but I do learn eventually!)

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Steve Ruis says:

    Well said. regarding “…but some of the coincident physical constants and properties seem to be amazingly improbable, and demand scientific investigation.” This has been examined and it appears that we can even dump overboard one of the four forces of nature (the weak nuclear) and still have pretty much what we have now. All that the compatible physical constants says is that if they were substantially different, we wouldn’t exist. So what? Since they do, we do. If they didn’t there would be no one to ask the question, why doesn’t this universe support life.

    The problem we suffer from is having exactly one example of the object under study (universes). If there were only one Redwood tree or one Homo sapiens, what kinds of generalizations might we come to? Things like, if this one didn’t exist, there wouldn’t be any. In other words, not very helpful generalizations.

    I once heard a creationist’s argument (in person!) that a simple ten number sequence (he used baby blocks) was a highly unlikely sequence to happen at random (this is a bogus argument because the process are not random but …) and so much greater would be the unlikelihood of a sequence of amino acids in a protein or bases in DNA. I respond that if this roll of the baby number dice occurred at the speed, say, of molecular collisions, his ten number sequence would occur approximately 10 to the 19th power times per second. Not very improbable that. So, is it unlikely that a universe has the constants we have? We have to ask could a universe be created any other way? And do these parameters interact with one another shaping each other into the values they have, like so many other things in the universe?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “So, is it unlikely that a universe has the constants we have? We have to ask could a universe be created any other way? And do these parameters interact with one another shaping each other into the values they have, like so many other things in the universe?”

      Exactly, and well said.


  3. Steve Morris says:

    Well, bravo! I was making that suggestion a bit tongue in cheek, so well done for clearing out your closet all at once. You even beat me to it! Note to self: maybe this crazy idea could really take off?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I remember having an on-line discussion with some folks from the National Taxpayers Union about 20 years ago. The topic was whether long-term capital gains should be adjusted for inflation. Being a liberal, I opposed the idea at first, but later became convinced that a house being sold after several years should only be taxed for the actual or net profit after removing the effects of inflation.

    I told the folks to remind me if I should forget that I had reached the new conclusion. And they promised they would. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Oh, and I once had a migraine and in frustration made a snarky remark about Jerry Coyne, on his own website. I think I’m banned there now.

    Liked by 1 person

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