Rationality is a Skill – Have You Honed Yours? August 8, 2011

Rationality is a Skill – Have You Honed Yours?

This is a guest post by Katie Hartman. She is a student at Missouri State University and the organizer of Skepticon 4.

Quiz time!

When was the last time your belief structure on a topic important to you shifted significantly?

Yes, I can see all you ex-theists out there. Put your hands down! That one doesn’t count.

I mean, isn’t it a little too easy? Yes, there’s probably no god. You’d think anyone who didn’t sleep through their science classes could get that one, assuming they were fortunate enough to reside in one of the many states sane enough to teach science.

A psychologist being dated admits fault in cognitive biases and then finds the same faults in their partner. Last panel: "I knew I shouldn't have dated a psychologist." "That's hindsight bias."

Okay, okay, credit where credit is due. If you were once a True Believer™, your brain was actively protecting your faith. You were likely a victim of the bandwagon effect. The illusion of control and your ability to form illusory correlations played right into your evaluation of your own prayers. After a few months of churchin’ – and especially after years – irrational escalation was pinning you to your committed beliefs. The promise of an unimaginably wonderful afterlife fed your wishful thinking.

And all of these innate obstacles were blanketed in the pixie-dust of confirmation bias, providing a neat little barrier against all that nasty evidence.

If you managed to drag yourself out of that hole, you deserve a little recognition. And if you’re reading this blog, you’ve probably also cleanly avoided all sorts of other supernatural woo: psychic powers, astrology, homeopathy, etc.


Rationality needn’t hit the brakes when we exit the realm of the supernatural. We live our daily lives based on an elaborate constellation of beliefs, and we should not allow them to escape our scrutiny. Which careers, possessions, and relationships will make us happiest, and what strategies will most efficiently get them for us? Which social and political structures will make the world a “better” place, and what does that even mean? What ought we eat? To whom should we donate our money? How should we spend our free time? Why?

As Julia Galef and Massimo Pigliucci discuss in their Rationally Speaking Podcast, the beliefs that surround these important aspects of our lives—happiness, eating, and charitable giving, for example—are often quite misinformed.

And really, that’s no surprise: if you can train a populace to fill the Church coffers on a weekly basis in return for a promise that is on its face ridiculous, why couldn’t you manipulate the same psychological weaknesses to sell larger houses, more gratuitously expensive weddings, factory-farmed meats, bigger breasts, incoherent political ideologies, fantasies of sexual purity, Reeboks?

Cue Spencer Greenberg with The Good News:

“The exciting thing about truth discernment is that it is not just a genetic ability (though genetics is surely a contributing factor). It is an ability that we can improve a great deal if we take the time to hone our thinking. We can familiarize ourselves with the logical fallacies to the point where our brain notices them occurring in real-time. We can learn the cognitive biases so that we know the ways our brains are likely to fail us and can consciously correct for these failures. We can learn to prevent unhelpful emotions from derailing our logic too often. We can practice our reasoning by drilling in LSAT questions. And we can learn the methods of rationality, or at least read about another person using them.”

So, here’s your homework: when was the last time your belief structure on a topic regarding the natural world or your own lifestyle shifted significantly? Did it affect your behavior? How? To what end?


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  • OverlappingMagisteria

    I used to be ok with using moderate  spanking as a punishment. I hadn’t yet decided if I would use it on my not-yet-existing kids, but it was a viable option. I justified this since me and my siblings were spanked (never repeatedly, just one quick one per offense) and we turned fine so I figured it couldn’t be too harmful. Of course, using a tiny sample size with absolutely no control (what would I have turned out to be like if I was never hit?) is no way to make any kind of decision.
    So now I’m definatly against it and will not be using that method on my future kids! Too much evidence showing the harm… so hooray for changing my mind!

  • Karen

    Man, I wish I’d written that!

  • Kat Cox

    Excellent post. I try to do this every chance I get, specifically concerning food and exercise. For instance, I have recently changed my stance on potatoes, which used to be “they’re so full of vitamins!” and is now “that huge Harvard study pointed out that they are perhaps a huge contributor to weight gain over a person’s lifetime!” So now, potatoes are like other refined white sugars to me, or soda or cake — I only consume ’em on special occasions. 

    Where it’s REALLY hard to work on changing my views is with politics. Most of the time I find that the views “opposite” of mine are so ridiculously riddled with nonsense (or religious statements) that I just can’t read them. I align myself as more of a liberal than a conservative, and so many conservatives are simply part of the religious right that I can’t find any truly rational discussion to help me see “the other side”. Perhaps someone in this readership could help me out, point me in a direction where I can get a conservative viewpoint without all the Jesus?

  • Michael

    It used to be that you could find fiscally conservative (but socially liberal) people without all of the Jesus, as you so appopriately put it.  Let me know when you find one.  Unfortunately, I’m from Minnesota so I get to see tons of Bachmann stories on the news.  Frightening.

  • Robobobo

    Dating and women.  I used to think  you had to fall for all the “give her chocolates and flowers, write her poetry and confess your feelings.. be yourself” to win her heart.  I came around full swing after reading up on “The system”, Pick up artist stuff, Roissy blog.  Basically Men giving men (who need it) good controversial advice.  They all generally come to one agreement.  Woman get bored with nice guys.  Girls want a challenge, and the occasional verbal “bitchslap” to put them in their place, but probably will never tell you that.  Men have been feminized, and to the high value woman, its unattractive.  Certainly biologically.  Much of the dating game advice was counter intuitive to what you normally hear, but many claim it has the effect of washing away the bullshit that has been beamed into our heads.  I think completely different now, and look back at my old habits and say WTF was I doing.

  • high value women like Kim Kardashian?  or high value women like Susan Sarandon?

  • U.S. Republicans are a pretty strange beast, and one must be careful in learning about the other side not to assume that ‘splitting the difference’ between two extremes automatically results in sanity and moderation. For all you know, your own views are at the extreme conservative end of the spectrum of Perfectly Reasonable Political Ideologies, and our way of delimiting the political spectrum is just distorted by the preponderance of unreasonable options on the table.

    But that aside, it probably depends on what you mean by “conservative.” Do you want non-religious social conservatism? An atheist might argue that abandoning religion would destabilize society overmuch; even if in principle we don’t need a religious moral compass, perhaps in practice the spread of atheism would produce too much nihilism as a byproduct and poison the world. I also don’t see anything particularly religious about arguing that exposure to violence excessively desensitizes the youth, or that censorship is an appropriate response. (Now, the sex-negative position seems a bit harder to justify without religious repression. I’d be interested in hearing this case made too.)

    But these views are all in tension with libertarianism, the other strand of modern Republicanism. And here I assume you don’t need the non-religious angle spelled out as much? Libertarianism has long been closely associated with atheism. Whether a more laissez-faire or more regulated economy is most conducive to human happiness is a question of fact, just as irreligious as the meta-ethical questions of how liberty stacks up against individual happiness, and the pragmatic question of ‘whose liberties get to count the most in irreconcilable conflicts?’. Of course, the fact that we can isolate these views from religion in principle doesn’t mean that in practice these two don’t interact; Christian libertarians might be more worried about the effects of a grand capitalistic experiment if they were less Rapture-happy, for instance.

    Overall, I’d say that the easiest way to make mistakes in this arena, aside from simply being uninformed on an issue, is to judge arguments too much based on the arguer, putting all Republican views on one basket and all Democratic ones in another. Analyze each issue as though you didn’t know which position was ‘right’ and which was ‘left.’ Mix and match; imagine Obama affirming the intrinsic ‘sacredness of life’ and arguing that a pre-birth ‘right to life’ is inviolable and crucial for a society’s survival, and see how your response would change. Because in practice, it certainly does change based on who’s making the argument, especially when we don’t already have a strong view on the matter. The first step to addressing that bias is to be able to recognize it yourself, out of context.

  • “…verbal ‘bitchslap’ to put them in their place…”
    And what place would that be?

  • I haven’t changed any belief “structures” in quite
    some time, but I did have an erroneous belief corrected that is quite
    illustrative of how we often uncritically accept anything that sounds
    interesting as true.

    In my local area in southern West Virginia we have a
    north-flowing river called the New River. 
    I had been told many times by several family members and acquaintances since
    childhood that this river and the Nile were the only major north-flowing rivers
    in the world.  I even repeated this myth
    to others when the topic came up. 

    Even as stupid as I realize this myth is now, it was in the
    mind of someone who has always had a strong interest and knowledge base in
    geography (I won the geography bee in elementary school).  Of the hours and hours I had spent looking at
    world maps and seeing the other north-flowing rivers, the myth about the New
    and the Nile was never forefront in my consciousness and so it never bumped up
    against the disconfirming evidence (present even in the same mind).

    This anecdote illustrates the point of this wonderful post
    quite clearly.  ALL beliefs need to be
    consciously and critically examined.   

  • Think you might want to revisit that whole thing my friend. Tiny, tiny grains of truth with a heaping pile of BS. Pick up artists are snake oil salesman.

  • Laurence

    I really enjoyed this post.  I think that it is important for us to have all our beliefs, no matter how deeply held, over to revision based on arguments and evidence.  I remember two instances where I changed deeply held beliefs.  Both instances occurred when I was taking my Introduction to Ethics class in college.  The first was when I changed from a hardcore moral anti-realist to a pretty strong moral realist.  The second was when I was presented with Peter Singer’s argument about why we shouldn’t eat meat.  I’m actually beginning to change my mind again about the former, but I still haven’t been able to defeat Singer’s argument after all these years, especially given my current values.  I’m constantly trying to challenge my beliefs to see if I’m justified believing them.  Sometimes I do a good job at this, sometimes I don’t.  It’s very tough to do, but nobody said it was going to be easy.

  • Sdorst52

    I think that’s a bunch of BS. If you have a group of guys telling each other how to treat women, what makes you think that has any validity? Talk about getting selective evidence! What do the women reading this think?

  • Annie

    I’ve got one!  I used to be one of those people who thought my partner should know me well enough to have a sense of what he could do to make me feel appreciated, loved, etc.  I thought if he really loved me, it would be obvious.  Well, a few years back during a marital hiccup, a wonderful secular psychologist asked, “So, you expect him to be a mind reader?”  I squirmed and added “buts” and “wells” until I realized he was absolutely right.  There is no way for another person to know what they could do  for you… unless you tell them.  Instead of getting angry that he just doesn’t “get” me, I now tell him exactly what would make me feel good, loved, etc., and guess what?  He does them! 

  • Jen

    Ew, both your former and current way of thinking about women are utter bull crap. Try treating women like human beings instead of targets.

  • Anonymous

    It depends on what you want out of your relationship with “women.” If you want a monogamous, equal partner, then yeah you might have to use something creative to find one.
    On the other hand, bitch slaps are a time-proven technique for keeping easily abused girls from exploring.
    You generalize too much, though. Ask yourself, what kind of woman responds to your pick up artist challenge? I don’t care what you get out of it, but try to imagine what need you satisfy in these people by being “controversial.”

  • Jennifer Alisha

    I think that they may have been confused about women getting bored with nice guys. Women want a guy to treat her well, which means he has to be nice. However, it can be a turn off for anyone to be insecure, always trying to “buy” love, and basically up their butt all the time. I, too, would like to know what place women like to be put in…

  • Exactly. There is a big difference between “nice” and “needy.” 

  • Charon

    Believe it or not, there exist women who like chocolates, flowers, poetry, and emotional communication. At the right time and place. As a more reasonable Jennifer remarked here, trying to buy love it probably not going to work well. But a few truffles and a nice bouquet on her birthday? Really, you don’t think any women actually like that?

    I agree with the sentiment about treating women as people rather than targets, but what about being a nice guy entails treating women as targets? You’re letting a lot of outside baggage cloud your judgement here (e.g., the pick-up artist stuff, or anti-feminist “women hate me because I’m a nice guy” arguments).

    Or you’re just making the negative term “target” too broad to be meaningful. If a women is attractive, smart, nice, and single, and I say, “I would like to date her. I wonder how I can attempt that,” that makes her a target for me? Sure, I’d be treating her differently than any random person, or any guy, because… you know, she’s attractive and I’m a hetero guy.

  • Charon

    (And as long as this is in a social context, rather than professional, and I take no for an answer if it’s given… even you can’t object to that. I don’t think.)

  • AwesomeCloud’s mom

     When I was in the process of adopting my child, I joined the ‘adoption community’.  There, I learned that rude, insensitive strangers would come up to my family and say highly offensive things like, “Where is he from?” and “Is he adopted?”  I should be righteously indignant and glare hatefully at these people before storming off.

    After adopting, I gave it a try and soon realized how ridiculous it all was. So I switched back to being friendly and approachable.  As it turns out, those strangers are just trying to make a connection, and if you give them a chance, they’d really rather talk about themselves anyway.

    And while the things people tell me about themselves are occasionally a bit disturbing or sad, at least I don’t have to make any more hateful glares.

  • Jen

    I never said there weren’t women who like chocolates and flowers and poetry. The problem is there’s no one tactic that’s automatically going to win a woman over, because all women are different. We’re not something you can acquire just by following steps X, Y, and Z. Both his former and latter tactics do that.

    And really, smothering someone with gifts in an attempt to get in their pants instead of actually forming an emotional relationship with them or *communicating* with them doesn’t make you a nice guy. It makes you a passive aggressive ass.

  • In 2008 a group called the Amethyst Initiative formed to help reform drinking laws in the US. Its position was very much in line with my own thinking: that people ought to learn to drink before they learn to drive, so that by the time they start driving, they’ll have some personal experience of how alcohol impairs their abilities. And that if drinking lost its forbidden-fruit qualities, it would reduce the amount of binge drinking on college campuses.

    And then I ran across a study (which, unfortunately, I can’t find at the moment) that ran counter to all of my intuition. It cited studies from various countries that had raised or lowered the drinking age, and what effect that had on alcohol-related traffic accidents. As I said, I can’t find it now, but I remember it seeming to be fairly solid, answering all of the objections that came to mind, like “yes, but are you correcting for education level and socioeconomic status? … Oh, I see you are.”

    I’m still attached to the idea that the drinking age ought to be lowered, but I’m far less certain of my position than I once was.

  • Back in my childhood, when I learned Russian geography, I learned how Russia (and later the Soviet Union) had always wanted a warm-water port. It’s not that Russia doesn’t have any rivers, it’s that most of them flow north into the Arctic Ocean, where they’re frozen over for half the year.

  • This. Yes. Exactly.

    I shared Robobobo’s comment with Spencer (the same brilliant individual who I quoted toward the end of my post), and he replied with this:  “I think there is great danger in viewing relationships as too transactional.”

    He’s spot-on. One of the [many] underlying problems with Robobobo’s perspectives – both old and new – is that they treat dating as a process of applying stimuli (chocolates, confessions, verbal “bitchslaps,” whatever) to a woman, and then getting results. This breeds a very unattractive sense of entitlement that simultaneously (a) sends most women packing and (b) leaves the supposedly-“nice” guy with a growing sense of resentment for the opposite sex. He bought the chocolates! He wrote the poems! He DESERVED to keep her.

    Except that no, actually, that’s not how relationships between human beings work.

  • Revyloution

    The last thing I changed my mind about was talking with a hands free while driving.   I was convinced that it wasn’t any more dangerous that talking to someone in the car, or listening to the radio.

    I then read a peer reviewed paper studying those exact things.  The results were clear, driving with a hands free and just talking makes the driver more distracted and dangerous than a drunk driver with a 1.6 blood alcohol level. (don’t quote me on the number,  its just  what I remember).    Now, when the phone rings, I pull over.

  • Revyloution

    …..accept for the gold diggers that are looking for a sugar daddy.

    And girls want you to look them in the eyes when your’e talking to them.  Accept for the plastic surgery nightmares with the way too revealing tops.

    No means no means no.   Accept when they say no, but really want you to know they mean yes.  (case in point, my friend asked his fiance if she wanted a big romantic proposal.  She said no.  Later, she was mad at him for not giving her a big romantic proposal.)

    Sometimes, I think that a rational progressive women’s biggest enemy is simply  other women.

  • Jen

    Yes, because those things you listed are certainly the majority of women *rolls eyes*

    I’d say find better female friends, but if you’re willing to make comments like this, maybe you don’t deserve women who act like decent human beings.

  • Adam Highway

    I watched the recent Royal wedding. It changed me from an apologist for royalty to a republican (NOTE the small “r”!)

  • Annie

    Love this Adam!  And reminded me of another misconception.  I recently shared with someone that the turkey vulture and the kiwi are the only two birds that find their food through the sense of smell (this is something I learned in an aviculture class in the 1980s).  The person I said this to knew otherwise and gave me documentations along with examples.  To be honest, I love when this happens, as it means I’ve learned something new.

  • Forthispost

    I can’t recall the exact line, but there was a moment in an old episode of “Everybody Loves Raymond” where he and his wife were arguing about his forgetting something, and she says something like “After 20 years of marriage, I’d think you’d know that” to which his reply is “After 20 years of marriage, I’d think you’d know I won’t know that.” It was one of those breakthrough things, funny and true- we all need to give everyone else some slack.

  • JulietEcho

    I used to think that rape jokes, while distasteful, were fair game for comedians and tv shows. I didn’t like it when Family Guy made a joke about rape, or when one of my friends used the phrase “got raped” to mean “lost a sports game” or “were cheated out of money,” but I never spoke up, because I have strong feelings about humor being highly individual and nothing being treated as too “sacred” to joke about.

    Then a friend showed me an article (that links to several studies to back up its assertions), essentially outlining the sheer number of rapists in the general male population and the mindset of the men who rape.  Men who rape have a strong tendency to think that most, or even *all* men are either rapists or are okay with rape happening.

    Whenever a guy tells a rape joke or uses the idea of being raped lightly, they are unwittingly validating (in rapists’ eyes) this attitude.  If good men spoke up consistently and said something anti-rape to counter such jokes and language, then rapists would begin to lose the sense of community approval that they currently enjoy.  It should not be seen as socially acceptable to ever rape anyone, period.

    You can read the (quite short) article that convinced me at: http://www.menspeakup.org/why-rape-jokes-are-never-ok

  • Misogyny. Yep. Soooo attractive… *yawn*

    Sorry, but a “verbal bitchslap” is a Red Flag, and makes me wonder just how far you take that “correction” of women.

  • Joshua Zelinsky

    Let’s see, recent changes of important things. Does it count if it was something not being important that might be becoming important? Over the last year or so I’ve become more and more convinced that we don’t put nearly enough resources into dealing with or evaluating existential risk threats to humanity.

  • J David Eisenberg

    An ultra-conservative told me that Texas (with its “self-regulating” corporations) has better air quality than California (with all its “government interference”). Looked up the data for bad air quality days, and Los Angeles has more than Houston. I was sure it would be the other way around. It reminded me to always check the data.

  • Of course that may have nothing to do with regulated versus unregulated. I don’t know if regulated versus unregulated is even the case (aren’t many regulations on a federal level?) A number of factors, of course, could contribute to the overall air quality; number of polluters, number of cars, geography, meteorology etc.

    But I don’t know; just making sure people understand that one true thing doesn’t make the whole premise true.

  • Of course that may have nothing to do with regulated versus unregulated. I don’t know if regulated versus unregulated is even the case (aren’t many regulations on a federal level?) A number of factors, of course, could contribute to the overall air quality; number of polluters, number of cars, geography, meteorology etc.

    But I don’t know; just making sure people understand that one true thing doesn’t make the whole premise true.

  • Of course that may have nothing to do with regulated versus unregulated. I don’t know if regulated versus unregulated is even the case (aren’t many regulations on a federal level?) A number of factors, of course, could contribute to the overall air quality; number of polluters, number of cars, geography, meteorology etc.

    But I don’t know; just making sure people understand that one true thing doesn’t make the whole premise true.

  • A Little Caustic Agnostic

    I’m a woman who thinks this robobobo is either stirring the pot, an ass or an idiot.  I don’t want a guy “being nice” just to get what he wants but yeah. no.  Maybe he got confused….. No woman wants/needs a verbal bitchslap.  I get the males have been feminized and some women like stronger men bullcrap.  Maybe he took stronger male to mean abusive?  I take it to mean stronger as in secure, responsible, supportive, kind to others etc.  There is nothing more unattractive then a whinny, insecure person who showers you with gifts, calls or texts all day and then brings it up when they don’t get what they want.

  • A Little Caustic Agnostic

    I don’t agree that men have been feminized nor do I think that would be a problem.  Also, a group of men sitting around teaching other men how to con women is creepy.  I think all women need to read “the system” so they know what to watch out for!

  • Anonymous

    Gary Johnson  The sidebar on the Wikipedia page about him says he is Lutheran but the fact that  I had to look for it shows that it isn’t a big issue for him and it may be a pro-forma kind of thing.

  • Anonymous

    “Be yourself” seems to work OK for me.  Then again I’m interested in a partner, not another notch in the bedpost so maybe if that’s what you’re looking for then being an ass is the way to go. 

    There’s always Rosey Palmer and her five daughters for when you’re “system” fails you.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing serious but I’ve always considered it important to put money into a pension scheme and into investments for the future.  Last week someone pointed out a fairly obvious inconsistency with this advice.  If I’m paying 5% or 6% on my mortgage and getting 3% or 4% on my investmentspension then why am I wasting money on investments when I could get a significantly greater return by paying my mortgage faster.  I can always invest when the debts are cleared.

    It is so obvious that I’ve been kicking myself ever since.

  • Andrea Wojtewicz

    I used to believe that everyone had empathy, save the worst psychopaths in society. I now realize that psychopathology is a spectrum disorder of which everyday people can have. They may not act out by killing people but they leave a wake of devastation everywhere they’ve been. This is because they do not have the ability to empathize, the thing which makes us human. Check out Robert Hare’s, “The Psychopath Next Door”, or Scott Peck’s, “People of the Lie”. Everyone has a certain amount of “healthy” narcissism, but in the personality disordered, it is malignant.

  • My story is a familiar enough one to start with. After learning about evolution in school my creationist views collapsed. I drifted through into liberal Christianity faster and faster as more and more issues became apparent with science and the bible, dogma, etc. towards deism. Then eventually my sole reason for believing was that I wanted it to be true.

    I gave one final prayer saying to whatever god might be listening that my belief was in its hands now (if it cared), and then I was an atheist.

    However I hadn’t learnt my lesson. It would be another year before I shook off all the conspiracy theories I believed in. I managed to because of a friend of mine who is vastly smarter than I am who believed in human influenced climate change when I didn’t. We argued and my doubts caused me to shout louder so to speak. Sensing the same discomfort from my belief in god, I realised my lack of reasons for disbelieving the climate change.

    Now I strive to be skeptical in all things. I’m highly critical of any view that I feel I hold too emotionally and I’m extra so when my learning about a subject seems to be what I wanted. I try to ferret out bad beliefs before I contract them.

  • Maybe we should try to reformulate the humour so it’s degrading to rapists. Shame can change behaviour strongly.

    I KNOW
    expects me to be a mindreader. I even point it out and they refuse to see this. What do you think I should do?

  • Neurolover

    I’m right here!!! Plus my whole family. Plus many of my friends. All very fiscally conservative, all fairly socially liberal, all Jesus-free.

  • TychaBrahe

    Recently a friend of mine had a baby.  She and her husband have incompatible blood types, and this was her second child.  The baby was monitored, but apparently, unbeknownst to anyone, my friend had a small intrauterine bleed, and her body began attacking the fetus.  This happened during the late stages of pregnancy, so the pregnancy went to term, but the baby was born jaundiced and very, very sick.

    The doctors were doing what they could with medications and supportive care and UV blankets, but ultimately, they put the baby in an isolette and let her live or die on her own, because that is all they could do.  Her tiny, newborn body had to fight for her life against her mother’s antibodies, and there was nothing anyone could do.

    I really understood–in ways that hurricanes and earthquakes and tsunamis could not make me understand–why people pray.  It seemed so attractive to me to think there might be some entity in the sky that gave a crap about poor sick babies and could be entreated to help this infant.  For New Orleans and Haiti and Indonesia and Japan, I could write a check and when my budget for the month then no longer allowed for a trip to the bookstore or the movies, I felt I was doing something.  But nothing I could do would help this baby.  And so I wanted to believe that there were combinations of words that I could think or utter that would bring this child to this deity’s attention and make Him care about her.  The obvious questions like “Why does a loving god need to be prayed to in order to come to the aid of sick children?” and “Why does a loving god let children get sick in the first place?” and “If there is a God and we do pray and she dies anyway, what does that say about the world and God?  Are we unworthy, or was she, or is God?”  

    Well, I had made the baby a baby blanket, and one day my friend said she thought her daughter felt cold, so she placed the blanket on top of the baby in the isolette.   And I admit that I gave in to magical thinking.  In a part of my mind, I believed that my blanket would help this girl recover.   Not because the warmth would help her, but because the love that the blanket symbolized would help, and because the blanket would serve as a conduit for my good wishes for her healing.  (The fact that I went through a Pagan stage, and that the parents are Gardnerian Witches makes talismanic thinking very appropriate.)

    And I felt so guilty and stupid for endulging in magical thinking.  But I did it anyway, because the alternative was so bleak.

    Happily, the baby did recover and is doing very well now.  But I still wonder, when I think about it, how rational I am, at the core.  It’s very easy to be rational and accept your own decisions and random chance as being responsible for your life when all goes well.  It’s harder when things are not going well at all.

  • Annie

    Hmmm.  Well, although
    you aren’t a mind reader, being observant can help a great deal.  Here’s a simple example:  You overhear your girlfriend talking to her
    friend Mary who just received flowers. 
    She says, “Oh, I love to get flowers!” 
    If you feel so inclined, and have the means, send her flowers the next
    chance you get.  When she thanks you, you
    can say, “I had no idea you liked getting flowers, so I was glad when  I overheard you mention it to Mary.”  Several exchanges like this will reinforce
    that although you are not a mind reader, you are eager to find out ways to show
    your admiration for her.  But I must say,
    I didn’t realize this until I was in my mid-30s… and in the middle of a marital
    crisis… and it was pointed out by a third party.  Good luck! 

  • Unfortunately I am seemingly congenitally inattentive and unobservant. Something makes me think being gay would be easier.

  • Dude

    I think a hell of a lot about things but I suffer from a few psychological quirks, mainly rumination and anxiety. I used to bottle things up for fucking ever and just sit in a corner not saying anything. I would be at a concert and not think about anything but why I don’t have a girlfriend or can’t get along with people. I recently addressed the root of my problems and feel a hell of a lot more calm and it has changed my perspective.
    This all sprung forth when I started to move my interest towards rationality, reasoning and intellectual honesty. The most important thing in the world to me now is honesty.

  • I think he’s disgusting, and I think I know why he had to go looking for advice. Here’s a tip for guys like him: If you think acting like a con artist is the right thing to do, you’re kidding yourself. You were NEVER the “nice guy.”

  • George Locke

    put your mind to it, Mike.  maybe read some books by women authors or something?

  • George Locke
  • Anonymous

    Get to know some different girls.  You can anticipate the needs and desires of your partner but you can’t read minds.  No-one can.  People do leave cues and hints though.  You just have to get to know them well enough to spot that this is what they’re doing and then pick up on what it is that they are hinting for.

  • Anonymous

    I do think this is worthy of discussion. And I do appreciate that the article really did try to be understanding toward people on the other side of the issue.  We should, of course, be concerned with reducing rape. Although I think it is impossible to tell exactly how much rape is going on, both because many rapes aren’t reported and because most court cases of date rape (which constitute a huge percentage of court cases about rape) end up being he said/she said situations which can’t be proven either way (but which the court is forced to decide anyway), but it can be agreed that the level of rape in society is way too high. And it is possible that a rapist could find false support for his actions from rape jokes.

    But on the other hand, our society already condemns rape as evil and most of the jokes are only funny if it is seen as horrible. If we banned all rape jokes, is that really going to stop anyone from raping who wasn’t stopped already? And where do we draw the line on other common crimes? When you are angry with someone and you say “I’m going to kill him!” and you don’t really mean it literally, are you giving violent people the suggestion that murder is okay in some circumstances? Almost every example of dark humor makes fun of a situation that has happened, at least in some degree, to people in reality. How do we decide which dark humor is acceptable and which isn’t? 

    While I don’t think any topic should be totally off limits to jokes, I do understand that context is key.  

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