IntroductionMany human traits are manifestly irrational...
Our greatest irrationalities seem often to be associated with short-sighted thinking. Climate change is a long-term threat, driving (rather than walking or riding a bicycle) to the shop is a short-term activity. We seem unable, individually or collectively, to change our short-term behaviour for the sake of our long-term survival. Many of our day-to-day activities need to change for us to control climate change.
Our use of antibiotics is another example of short-sited thinking harming our long-term welfare. Our farmers feed antibiotics to their animals because it slightly increases the growth rates – at the same time as training bacteria to live successfully in the presence of antibiotics.
Intelligent life on Earth has been one of nature's greatest experiments in this wonderful Universe. It seems a shame that it appears to have failed because of an insufficiency of rationality.
A list of things that can be done to reduce greenhouse impact is given on another page; many of them would also save money. Why are we not doing them?
Are we sheep or rational beings?As I write this the proposed execution of Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran, the ringleaders of the so-called Bali Nine heroin trafficking group, is due to happen in Indonesia within the next few weeks. Just for the record, I'll say that I am opposed to the death penalty; it is very final, if a conviction is found to be an error there is no way of undoing an execution. I'll also say that the two may well have been rehabilitated and, if they were released, could prove to be useful members of society in the future.
But it is all a matter of proportion.
It has been a very convenient distraction for the Abbott Australian government. PM Abbott has done all he can to keep the coal industry alive and to hold back renewable energy development in Australia. His actions have locked in a higher level of climate change and related problems than was necessary and these developing global disasters will displace millions of people and cause the extinction of thousands of species.
Similarly, millions of people have been displaced and tens or hundreds of thousands killed in the Middle East, including especially Iraq, due at least in part to the meddling of Western nations, particularly the USA, UK and Australia.
But in mid to late February 2015 the Abbott government and the Australian people seem to care far more about the lives of two convicted drug smugglers in Indonesia than they do for these enormously bigger problems.
Reacting emotionally rather than rationallyPeople often react emotionally rather than rationally to events that require thought and consideration rather than simple 'gut reactions'.
The opposition to a low-medium level radioactive waste repository in Australia seems to be due to an emotional fear of 'radioactivity'. I argue on
another page that there is no rational justification for the opposition and the whole thing is a 'storm in a teacup'.
Use of daylightPeople function best in daylight; our eyes are much more poorly adapted to operating at night than are those of nocturnal animals. This being so, why do the great majority of people sleep during the first few hours of daylight and remain wakeful during quite a few hours of darkness in the evening? This is not an efficient use of the daylight hours; rather than waking around 0800 and going to bed about midnight it would seem to make much more sense to wake around 0400 and go to bed about 2000 – either way you can get the required eight hours of sleep.
The evenings on these hot days are a little cooler than near the middle of the day, but of course temperatures typically decline from sunset until around sunrise of the next day, so the mornings are normally cooler than the evenings.
It is irrational to sleep during that part of the day that is most pleasant to be out, and then try to be active in some less pleasant part of the day. Surely we can all easily learn to go to bed and sleep earlier in the evening and then rise earlier too?
BiodynamicsOne of the basic principles, I believe, of 'biodynamic agriculture' is planting according to the phases of the Moon.
What effects does the Moon have on the Earth? The Moon provides some light at night and due to its gravitation it is the main cause of the tides (the Sun has a smaller effect on the tides). It is difficult to imagine how the Moon could significantly impact plant growth.
The light direct from the Sun is about 500,000 times as intense as the light from the full Moon. The quarter Moon provides no more than a quarter of the light of the full Moon. Compared to the light the Earth receives from the Sun, Moon light is negligible.
The tides are caused because the Moon's gravitational pull on the side of the Earth that is nearer to it is slightly greater than the pull on the far side of the Earth.
In regard to biodynamics, how powerful is the Moon's pull at the surface of the Earth compared to the Earth's own gravity? Gravitational force depends on the mass of the bodies involved and the distance from them. The Earth is about 81 times the mass of the Moon. A person standing on the surface of the Earth is about 6,400km from the centre of mass of the planet and about 380,000km from the centre of mass of the Moon.
The force of gravity is proportional to the product of the masses involved and inversely proportional to the square of the distances between the bodies. So the force of the Earth's gravity on someone standing on the surface of the planet relative to the force of the Moon's gravity would be proportional to 1 : 1 / (81 × (6,4002 / 380,0002)). This equals 1 : 0.0000035. Putting it another way, the Earth's gravitational pull on a plant would be about 286,000 times as great as the Moon's gravitational pull.
So in summary, the Moon's effects on a plant on the surface of the Earth could only come from the Moon's light (which would, on average, be much less 1/500,000th that of light from the Sun) and the Moon's gravitational pull (which would be 1/286,000th that of the Earth).
Given this, how could anyone place any credence in the theory that the phases of the Moon have a significant impact on plant growth?
Finally, if planting according to the phases of the Moon had significant effects on plant growth and success wouldn’t we find that they timed things like flowering, dropping leaves, dropping seed, etcetera to moon phase; but we don’t. It would be easy to demonstrate the link between plants growth and Moon phases scientifically, but where is the research confirming the theory?
ReferencesBruce Hood, in his book, 'Supersense: From Superstition to Religion – the Brain Science of Belief' makes the point that our brain's 'design' is such that the formation of beliefs not based on evidence can easily happen, especially early in our lives.
Michael Shermer has made statements along the same lines.
External sites...Dunning-Kruger effect
On this site...Delusion should be more broadly defined than just its clinical meaning. For example, religion is delusional, any belief unsupported by evidence is delusional.
Humanity and fossil fuels; Man has behaved irrationally, rather like a population of single-celled organisms, in the way he has exploited fossil fuels.
Suicide as a rational decision
Opposition to a low-medium level radioactive waste repository in Australia seems to be emotional rather than rational.