Saturday, January 16, 2010

Good Example for Pseudo Science: Blue Monday Formula

A mathematically sounding formula says that "Blue Monday" is coming up soon. Dr. Cliff Arnall's nonsensical formula to determine the most depressing day of the year - also known and unreflectingly disseminated under the term "Blue Monday" - is a perfect example for pseudo science we are trying to identify and fight in this blog. The case shows that it is still possible to make up some mathematically appearing nonsense and find not only a public audience but loyal followers and true believers. This reveals the quasi-religious role science is able to play in some parts of society: A lot of people do not really understand what is happening around them. And they are happily welcoming any kind of pseudo-scientific statement explaining them the world in a nice and easy way. It almost seems that people are just waiting to give away their last abilities for autonomous reasoning to become believers of esoterically sounding formulas and cryptic "scientific" terms. They seem to be looking for an intellectually "strong man" (which of course could also be a woman, but statistically still much more often happens to be a man). My theory: We are still apes, looking to follow the silverback-gorilla, even as physical strength has proven to be irrelevant and our only hope for survival evidently is our intellect: We are incredibly ready to throw this intellect away and now follow the supposedly intellectually strong guy around! Our brain is worthless if we do not dare to use it self-responsibly. There is nobody else who can explain your world for you - you have to start to think for yourself!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Richard Feynman on

Scientific Investigation:


Taking the world from another point of view (1 of 4):

Taking the world from another point of view (2 of 4):


Taking the world from another point of view (3 of 4):

Taking the world from another point of view (4 of 4):

Monday, February 4, 2008

On the misleading differentiation between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation

Although various researchers have stressed the problematic character of the differentiation between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation (e.g. Rheinberg, 2004) this terms still are being used in actual motivational discussions (Gächter, 2007). Recently these terms are used to describe processes of "crowding out of intrinsic motivation" (Gächter, 2007, p. 43).

Apart from the generally imprecise character of the differentiation between "inside" and "outside" the use of these terms indicates a fundamental psychological misunderstanding: there is no extrinsic motivation. Motivation can only emerge and exist within the human mind. This notion has already been explained perfectly by Metzger (2001 [1941]).

Here we want to draw attention to two clarifications of this misunderstanding within the context of "flow research". They provide detailed neurologic evidence for the indefensibleness of the differentiation between "intrinsic" and "extrinsic" motivation and furthermore show that flow is ultimately no more than the process of dopamin-controlled attention shifting:

Blog article on the relation of flow and "intrinsic motiovation"

General critique on "flow"


Gächter, S. 2007. Conditional Cooperations: Behavioral Regularities from the Lab and the Field and Their Policy Implications. In: Economics and Psychology. A New Cross-Disciplinary Field. Frey, B.S. & Stutzer, A. (Eds.). Cambridge and London: MIT Press

Metzger, W. 2001 (1941). Psychologie – Die Entwicklung ihrer Grundannahmen seit Einführung des Experiments. Wien: Krammer

Rheinberg, F. 2004. Intrinsische Motivation und Flowerleben. Published Online:

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Has Freud been a Cargo Cult Scientist?

Feynman tought us to "look into theories that don't work, and science that isn't science". As a definition for this kind of science he proposed "something ahout which nobody knows
anything" and explicitly mentioned "the efficacy of various forms of psychotherapy". The goal of Freudian psychotherapy, or psychoanalysis, was to make repressed thoughts and feelings conscious to the patient, thereby letting him develop a stronger ego. This leads us directly to the first weak point in Freud's theory, his structural model of the mind, which he first discussed in an 1920 essay Beyond the Pleasure Principle and fully developed in The Ego and the Id (1923).

This model postulates three components of the human mind, id, ego, and superego. In Freud's theory, the ego mediates among the id, the super-ego and the external world. Its task is to balance between primitive drives from id, morals from super-ego, and reality. Its main concern is with safety and allows some of the id's desires to be expressed, but only when consequences of these actions are marginal. The main criticism has to be leveled at the arbitrariness of this model .

This starts with the term "id" itself. The term id (inner desire) is a Latinised derivation from Groddeck's "Es" and represents for Freud the "pleasure principle". In this view the mind of a newborn is completely "id-ridden" with regard to the mass of instinctive drives and impulses that demand immediate satisfaction. Freud describes the id as responsible for our basic drives such as food, sex, and aggressive impulses. It is amoral and egocentric, ruled by the pleasure–pain principle; it is without a sense of time, completely illogical, primarily sexual, infantile in its emotional development, and will not take "no" for an answer. It is regarded as the reservoir of the libido.

Freud then divided the id's drives and instincts into two categories: life (Eros) and death (Thanatos) instincts - the latter not so usually regarded because Freud thought of it later in his lifetime. Life instincts are those that are crucial to pleasurable survival, such as eating and copulation. Death instincts, as stated by Freud, are our unconscious wish to die, as death puts an end to the everyday struggles for happiness and survival. Freud noticed the death instinct in our desire for peace and attempts to escape reality through fiction, media, and substances such as alcohol and drugs. It also indirectly represents itself through aggression.

The major point of criticism on this model has to refer to the artificial division of our mind. Like Descartes Freud was not able to think the human mind as being both, instinct-driven animal and foreseeing philosopher at the same time. In ignoring the human developmental perspective he masked the incredible human learning ability with his description in terms of pure instinct.

Even his division of instincts is arbitraty. His assumption of a death instinct contradicts every basic biological concept. Although Darwin published his evolutionary theory already 1858, Freud (1856-1939) did not use this concept to reconsider his theory. This maybe can be explained by the overall time evolutionary concepts needed to break through in society. To sum up, Freud surely understood some basic mental processes, as we can see from his contributions to understand unconsciousness. But he used misleading, arbitraty terms and techniques for his research. This uncritical approach does not make himself, but many uncritical followers Cargo Cult Scientists.

The genuine criteria for being a Cargo Cult Scientist is not doing something in a wrong way or with the wrong method. It is doing it wrong but having had the chance and knowledge to do it better. Hence, we have to look for scientists who are repeating the errors of Freud, even 100 years after him.

One candidate offered this model, which reminds me very much of the methods of Freud:

Thursday, December 6, 2007

To live up to the name


This blog is intended to be a gradually growing collection of well-found criticism of pseudo-science, more precisely of that kind of pseudo-science, Richard Feynman had criticized in his Caltech commencement address of 1974 as "Cargo Cult Science":

"In the South Seas there is a Cargo Cult of People. During the war they saw airplanes land with lots of good materials, and they want the same thing to happen now. So, they've arranged to make things like runways, to put fires along the sides, to make a wooden hut for a man to sit in, with two wooden pieces on his head like headphones and bars of bamboo sticking out like antennas - he's the controller - and they wait for the airplanes to land. They're doing the everything right. The form is perfect. It looks exactly the way it looked before. But it doesn't work. No airplanes land."

By pointing out the biggest mistakes and shortcomings of this pseudo-scientific "Cargo Cult Science" I do hope that it will be possible to develop both strategies to avoid future pseudo-scientific activities as well as new methods and ways of thinking that will stimulate current science to proceed to new, more complex and more integrated scientific paradigms .