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Moving From Pseudoscience To Actual Science -- Resources requested

  1. Dec 15, 2016 #1
    Hey everyone! I need your help.

    My new girlfriend is smart, but shes misled and attracted to pseudo-scientific ideas (i.e crystal healing, astrology). I find this fairly annoying. She is a true social scientist though and searches for valid science when it comes to psychology, so I know she is capable and has the mind for genuine scientific ideas.

    My question for you is: is there a good science book/movie/T.V show that appeals to this kind of mind? Maybe something that can ease her into it? Something that can really outline that astronomy and physics can be as "magical" as there pseudoscience alternatives? I've tried to get her to read/watch Carl Sagan and other notable public ambassadors of science, but nothing is really connecting.

    What I know wont work would be something like Sam Harris, Dawkins, etc. Though they are some of my favorite scientists, I believe they are to "purist" to convince her that the scientific mind doesn't have to be a boring and superficial one.

    Any help/recommendations are highly appreciated.

  2. jcsd
  3. Dec 15, 2016 #2


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    Thread closed temporarily for Moderation...

    EDIT -- Thread re-opened. Everyone please remember that we do not discuss or debunk pseudoscience here at the PF. But the OP is just asking for resources to help him in his discussions, so providing resources should be fine in this thread. Thank you. :smile:
    Last edited: Dec 15, 2016
  4. Dec 15, 2016 #3
    You didn't mention Niel DeGrasse Tyson, who I know can be a bit strong at times, but I think he did a fairly good job in his version of Cosmos. I have yet to watch the whole thing.I think the original Sagan version instills more of a sense of wonder, but Tyson's is more up to date and he does some...mild debunking. It might be interesting to compare the two.

    If she's into social science then she at least should have some statistical literacy when it comes to conducting studies on how and why people believe certain things. A good many reasons people believe in magical things is due to cognitive biases - hindsight bias, confirmation bias, etc.

    -Dave K

    edit: hope the first part of my post is OK since it is not about a resource but relates my experience to the O.P.'s.
    edit edit: I removed the mentioned part just to be safe.
  5. Dec 15, 2016 #4


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    Although slightly sarcastic, xkcd makes a good point here: https://m.xkcd.com/808/
    Note the alt text (this is a link to the mobile version - tap alt-text link to read)
  6. Dec 15, 2016 #5


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    I think you look at it from the wrong side. What you call pseudo-science isn't a substitute for science nor is it meant to be. If all, it is a substitution for spiritualism. Some find it in religion, others in contemplation or yoga and again others in esoteric book stores. You won't heal a desire for it by scientific means, how entertaining (e.g. Sagan, Kaku, ...) or rational (e.g. studies about homeopathy) it might be.

    If she is good in social science, then the parallel to conspiracy theories comes to mind. I suppose there are similar mechanisms between those and the confidence in nonsense like astrology. I've once read about a study, which examined whether there is a correlation between full moon and birth rates. So for many of this stuff, there have been people who actually tried to debunk it. But I would be surprised if such an approach could help: too many discussions with anti-vaxxers or "vaccination causes autism" people. It's useless.
  7. Dec 15, 2016 #6


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    (emphasis is mine)

    Naturally this is entirely up to you, but I do not see why this is annoying or why one should attempt to "fix" it. Now, suppose you would stay together, reproduce and she would object against vaccinating your common child. In that case I can understand that it becomes an issue. Presently, I would recommend to just let it be.
  8. Dec 15, 2016 #7
    I'll share the anecdote I kind of deleted. My wife comes from a very superstitious family. Her sister still believes she can see dead ghosts and heal people.

    I never tried to deliberately convert my wife or anything, but the discussions came up inevitably. I would have to say things like, "look, I do mathematics. I work in rigor all day. I need reasons to believe things and I can't function any other way." Sometimes the debates would turn into arguments, where she felt like I was attacking her. (Oh man, I tried to explain "argument from ignorance" one day and she did not take that as I thought I meant it...)

    Over the years she has kind of adapted a bit more to my thinking in some ways, and in others we just don't discuss it. I know the first is true because she rolls her eyes now when her sister talks about magically healing people. (She had to think back on it, and realized that it never really did work.)

    But it's been 8 years and a lot of little conversations. I have watched science documentaries with her and even taken her to public sort of math lectures (but she was more going for my sake).

    -Dave K
  9. Dec 15, 2016 #8
    Thank you for the insight everyone!

    @fresh_42: Your spot on, and I recognize that fact. I guess what I was really trying to find in my post was a resource that blends spirituality with science in a legitimate way as to show her they are not entirely incompatible, maybe leading to more interest in broader scientific topics. I recently read Waking Up by Sam Harris and am considering giving it as a gift. I know I mentioned that he is the kind of scientist that would be to harsh for her, but this book was exceptional.

    @dkotschessaa : You're the man, thank you for posting. It's good to hear that this sort of thing does not have to lead to demise. I wouldn't try to "fix" or change her necessarily, I understand her mind functions differently than mine when it comes to these things. It is only on the rare occasion that she will bring up some nonsense and I feel compelled to say something, but yes, what I hope will be a productive conversion is perceived as personal attack. Is avoidance the best option? With this post I was hoping to find something that could would educate without the perceived attack. Maybe it is just best better left alone.
    Last edited by a moderator: Dec 15, 2016
  10. Dec 15, 2016 #9


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    What a bold statement! Can we make a thread out of this?

    Yours, Max-August (Zorn), Claude (Chevalley), Ernst (Zermelo) and Kurt Friedrich (Gödel) :smile:

    @Opacity951 Sorry, for being off topic. I couldn't resist. However, it might not be as off topic as I first thought it to be.
  11. Dec 15, 2016 #10
    Imagine the way you feel when somebody comes up to you and tells you that your favorite music or favorite movie in the whole world SUCKS, and proceeds to articulate why this is the case, all with perfectly good reasons, using their background in music or film to justify their conclusion. There's nothing you can say to refute, because you love this thing for reasons that don't have anything to do with reason or logic.

    I *imagine* that's how it feels for a person's psuedo-science or pseudo-spiritual beliefs to be impinged upon in a direct way.

    Sometimes you do just have to avoid certain topics. But its inevitable that something might come up. It was important for me to clarify to my wife, "I'm sorry, but I don't feel that I'd be a good mathematician/scientist if I just believed things without evidence." It's kind of like saying "It's not you, it's me." The thing is not to invalidate who the other person is as a person.

    -Dave K
  12. Dec 15, 2016 #11
    One more thing, and I'm mentioning it in a separate post in case it's too far off topic... (I keep putting it in my posts and deleting it). Mods will let me know also.

    My wife and I go to a "mindfulness community" - the teachings are loosely based in Buddhism, but the audience ranges from very woo-woo type people to hardcore skeptics. About 30% of them, and I'm not exaggerating, (the number might be low) are either in social work or psychology.

    They offer classes in MBSR (mindfulness based stress reduction). It's an interesting thing happening now where people are trying to pull out the psychology and neuroscience out of this old practice. If you find something like this near you, it is

    a) something you can do together that is kind of personal and "spiritual."
    b) something that has a lot of study behind it, at least from psychologists, that you can have great conversations about.

    She can take whatever dimension she wants and so can you. Studies HAVE shown that couples that attend some sort of service together tend to stay together longer. These studies have been, unfortunately, limited to theistic institutions, but I think there is a new movement of more secularized services like this happening and it is growing.

    Again, pardon me if it's misplaced for me to go there.

    -Dave K

    Edit: Sam Harris: Mindfulness. BOOM!
  13. Dec 15, 2016 #12
    Well you do have me in flattering company there.
  14. Dec 15, 2016 #13
    Thank you, this is a good perspective to view this.

    I think an important distinction to be made would be that it sounds like neither of our significant others are science skeptics or deniers. I am sympathetic to some psuedo-scientific or pseudo-spiritual beliefs as long as they do not cross that line.

    This I am very interested in after reading Sam Harris's book. I live in a relatively small town, but I believe I found a vipassana meditation place nearby. Have yet to attend, but am very happy to hear you can enjoy this activity in what I can only assume is a secular way. The proven benefits are very appealing.

    Mods thank you for allowing this conversion. It has been very beneficial and productive for me, and I don't think we have crossed into any rule violating territory.
  15. Dec 15, 2016 #14
    I think Vipassana Meditation (Goenka), or mindfulness, is a very good thing, very helpful. It fosters a fundamental, intimate, awareness of cause and effect and counters magical thinking.
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