Friday, September 11, 2015

Lessons in Bias from 9-11 and Dihydrogen Monoxide

Well, it's September 11th again. If you didn't look at your calendar, you could probably tell easily enough from glancing at any social media feed. Today is the day everyone makes sure we never forget what happened on September 11th, 2001. And rightly so. What happened that day is infamous for a reason. 2996 people prematurely lost their lives on that day, and thousands upon thousands more have perished since then as a direct result of what happened that day. We should remember that day. And, just as importantly, we should have a thorough understanding of what happened.

Most people are at least vaguely aware of the conspiracy theories surrounding the 9-11 attacks and the 9-11 truth movements that have brought them to light. For a very long time, I didn't take those movements and theories seriously. They seemed completely bonkers, like complete hogwash. But when I learned that someone I respected held to those theories, I decided to at least hear their case out. I didn't make it past re-watching the video footage before I knew something wasn't right. Back in 2001 when the attacks happened, I wasn't as well versed in physics as I am now. Simply watching the way the towers fell within the context of what happened offended my understanding of physics so much that I was compelled to start asking questions. And I quickly found myself unable to believe the official story anymore.

To be clear, I don't know what happened on 9-11. Was it an "inside job"? And if so, who was involved? I don't know. What I do know is that the official story is impossible, and there is a lot of evidence to support that those airplanes had a lot of help in the form of demolition equipment in order to bring down those buildings. Beyond that, I refuse to jump to any conclusions without hard evidence. But there is some compelling evidence that suggests various culprits, including some within government.

If you want to see why I disbelieve the official 9-11 narrative, I would refer you to the mini-documentary 9/11 - Echos of Darkness by StormCloudsGathering, as well as his latest video which was released today. I also encourage you to check out the YouTube channel Physics and Reason, which addresses the issue from a straightforward and easy to follow scientific perspective using experimentation and empirical evidence. But convincing you that the 9-11 story we've all been told is bullcrap was not my main reason for this article. There is something even more important that I want to address.

In addition to 9-11, there is no shortage of causes and conspiracy theories out there. Some of these are legitimate, and some of them are not. And it's become quite apparent to me that, whether it's the official narratives or less mainstream accounts, people do not choose what to believe based on evidence, reason, or fact. Rather, people choose what to believe based on what they want to believe, and based on the biases they embrace in order to protect what they believe from any evidence to the contrary.

Those who are dissatisfied with the status quo, the government, the corporate dominated economy, and the system as a whole tend to be more inclined to believe things which would incriminate that system and the entities which comprise it. Those who believe in that system, however, tend to be more inclined to dismiss anything which might incriminate it. Liberals are more likely to believe a narrative that paints conservatives in a bad light or incriminates their policies. Conservatives are more likely to believe any narrative which does this to liberals. Whatever cause or ideology someone believes in, they will almost always accept information which upholds what they believe and reject information that doesn't. This is called confirmation bias.

There is a satire/troll page on Facebook which centers around a campaign against a chemical called dihydrogen monoxide, also known as hydric acid. This chemical is rightly cited as being the cause of untold deaths in the US and around the world, and as being present in everything from acid rain to industrial runoff. It is also known more commonly by a different name: water. The point of the dihydrogen monoxide page is to illustrate how easy it is to take true facts and present them in such a way that it produces misleading information. I'm a big fan of the page myself. It's obvious satire, but apparently not obvious enough for some.

Recently, dihydrogen monoxide memes have been showing up on the pages of various March Against Monsanto pages and other non-GMO and pro-natural pages. They seem to be posting them in all seriousness, taken in by this troll campaign against water just because it sounds like something that supports their worldview. I find this both hilarious and sad. Sad because it is an example of information being accepted and held on to without scrutiny or thought on the part of those accepting it, simply because it suits their confirmation bias.

Please note that I'm not trying to discredit March Against Monsanto or the non-GMO movement. I have many sympathies with their cause, I support GMO labeling, and I have a lot of concerns over GMO foods. I'm merely using March Against Monsanto as an example. This phenomenon is not limited to them by any means. It's all over the place, spanning all ideologies, movements, and cultures. Whether a cause can be considered good or not, chances are good that many within it accept information that supports their worldview with minimal scrutiny. The ideas they are accepting may not even be wrong. But, because of their biases, they have no defense against any that are. And, as a result, many stupidities are able to creep in to otherwise sound movements, derail their intellectual integrity, and ultimately destroy their credibility.

This is a huge problem. And I'm not immune to it myself. It was my own bias that made me dismiss claims that the official story about what happened on September 11, 2001 is bogus. Before I could examine those claims objectively, I had to tear down those biases. And I have tried my best to make a conscious effort to identify and confront my own biases on every front. It's an ongoing effort that is by no means complete. Often, the problem with bias is that we are blind to our own. And it can be a very uncomfortable and humbling process to expose your own biases so you can see them, admit to them, and ultimately part with them.

But it is the problem of confirmation bias that prevents so many people from being objective about so many situations. It has led to a lot of ridiculous conspiracy theories and ridiculous official stories alike. It's the type of thinking that produces the crazy, way out there tinfoil-hat types and the sheeplike fools who accept what their television tells them without question. They are one and the same in their way of thinking, they just differ in the content.

So, this September 11th, with the world slowly marching towards disaster and sanity running in short supply on all of the various sides, I want to encourage you to do one thing: question yourself. Question your thought process and your conclusions. Question why you believe what you believe. And question deeply. And don't ever stop. Even when you feel satisfied that you have seen past your own biases, when you are certain of your own objectivity, that is the time to be questioning yourself the most aggressively. A little bit of self-doubt is healthy when it spurs you to more self-awareness, so long as it doesn't prevent you from being certain and assertive when you need to be. In fact, such doubt and questioning can ultimately lead to greater certainty as the biases are refined from your thinking.

With the world becoming increasingly like tinder, ready to go ablaze both at home and abroad, I cannot emphasize how important it is to think beyond the polarizing narratives and biases that are driving the various sides in conflict. It might be our only hope for averting disaster. Revolution begins within, with the overthrow of our own broken mindset. We cannot change the world until we first change ourselves.