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Braaaaiiinns!

Tuesday 18th March 2008

First, a continuation of the last entry: Holy Crap that was a good race. I got up at 4am (after an hour’s sleep. Ahem) to watch it (thus missing all the nauseating pre-race buildup, yesss!) and the didn’t feel at all tired watching it, cos of all the excitement. If the rest of the season is half as good as that race, I’ll be happy.

Anyway… I should’ve written this entry a while ago, but I had a bunch of other stuff to do at the time and by the time I didn’t have to do that stuff any more, I forgot I was going to write this. Oops.

So a while back, a Derren Brown show called The System was broadcast on C4. The premise of the show was that he’d worked out a 100% foolproof way for someone to win on the horses. The first part of the programme is concerned with how he gave tips anonymously to this (extremely irritating) woman, and how they were right each time. She gets confidence in The System, to the point where he persuades her to place one final bet for as much money as she can get together, on whichever horse he predicts will win the race. Theres some experiment/tricky bits he does as well, outside of the horse thing, to convey ideas about probability, for instance tossing a fair coin 10 times in a row and getting heads each time. He says that “the key to understanding this [trick], is the key to understanding the system”. Which really is a big hint…

After the woman places the last bet, Brown tells us how the system works. Basically, it’s a pyramid scheme; you start with a big group of people, split them into n groups (where there are n horses running in the same race), and assign each group a horse. You then tell each group that you “predict” that horse will win the race. After that, take the winning group and do it again, and again, and again. Until you end up with one person who happened to be in all the winning groups and has therefore seen a string of correct “predictions”. The person who you tell to get as much money together to place it on (effectively) a random horse…

I’ve probably summed the programme up badly, but the idea of it wasn’t to prove that there is or is not a system for winning at the horses. The idea was to basically show up faith.

The woman in the film (and by extension, the viewer, since we only see her perspective of events) assumes that there really is a system; that Derren Brown really can predict which horse will win a given race. But that’s because we can only see part of the story – we only see the one in 8000 who happens to get lucky at each level of the pyramid. The point is that to have faith in something, whether it be homeopathic remedies, religion, or in this case a system for winning at the horses, requires a certain amount of ignoring the bigger picture. The point Derren Brown is trying to get across is that just because we perceive something to be so, that doesn’t necessarily mean that our perception is correct.

The example given in the show is that of homeopathic medicine (the sort of thing where the medicines basically consist of water), but it applies to any sort of religious faith. One of the (many) things that annoys me about religion (or faith, or whatever you want to call it) is exactly this point. To believe in a religion – doesnt matter which one – requires you to blindly accept certain things. Whether that be a story of creation, a certain moral code, or simply the notion of a God, its the same thing. And that sort of blind acceptance is at best foolish, at worst downright dangerous.

As so deftly explained by xkcd (and thats quite coincidental, cos I started this post before that cartoon was published), the core of science is the notion that ideas – any ideas – are tested by experiment. You shouldn’t accept facts just because someone says they are true, or because they were written down in a book thousands of years ago. It’s so irritating when you have an argument about religion with, say, a Christian, and every response they come up with is prefaced with the phrase “well, the Bible says…”. I don’t want to know what the Bible says, I want to know what you say!

OK, excluding extremists (who are just nuts), it all seems slightly innocent for some people to be religious, doesn’t it? If it brings comfort to them, if it gets them through the day, surely thats fine? Well no, it isnt. The very core of a religious viewpoint is this ability to accept without question; to do without thinking. It leads to flawed logic, to arbitrary judgements, to conflict. If more people accepted a more “scientific” frame of mind, the world would be a better place.

Basically, religion = bad. When I’m in charge, it’ll be classified as a mental illness…

Posted at 5:35 pm | Posted In: MotorsportProcrastinationRandom Tagged:

3 Comments:

Lucy

Wednesday 19th March 2008, 9:03 am

That particular xkcd literally made me laugh out loud, even though no-one else was in the house at the time. Given how low I was, that’s some achievement…

I’m not going to comment on the religion thing. I think that you already know my thoughts and that we shall have to agree to disagree :-)

hannah

Wednesday 19th March 2008, 11:22 am

I don’t see what’s so wrong with people wanting to believe in ‘something’ else other than science. There are some who take it to the extremes granted but perhaps don’t tar everyone with the same brush. If people want to take solance in believing in a higher being or something similar than surely that’s there choice…same goes for people wanting to believe in science because it seems so absolute. I think there are some who want to just believe without having to feel obliged to justify :o)

Lucy

Thursday 20th March 2008, 10:59 am

Oh, and incidentally, your scientific rigour and logic is as much of a human construction as religion is. I really must get round to writing that blog…

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