Monday, April 24, 2017

Sam Harris Vs. Hunter Maats

I recently watched the following compilation video recommended by YouTube. The first part is Sam Harris on the Joe Rogan podcast complaining about people trolling him on twitter, including a prior guest of Joe's named Hunter Maats. The second part is of Hunter Maats talking about Sam during a previous episode.

Sam's complaint is something along the lines of, ...Hunter's attacks are juvenile...he sends me two tweets then sends me 400 that say you're scared to debate me...there is a level of arrogance and incivility and lack of charity in interacting with other people's views..., etc

Watching the clip of Hunter's conversation with Joe left me wondering if Sam was being overly sensitive. There was certainly a fuzziness to Hunter's criticism of Sam. He talked for quite a while but didn't seem able to convey his critique in a concise manner. In a nutshell, he essentially was saying that Sam is a rationalist, who believes that reason and emotion are separate and that reason should reign supreme.  Hunter is an intuitionist that believes our intuitions and emotions are what drives are reasoning. Hunter believes that Sam's views lead him to communicate ideas in a manner which are unpalatable to those he criticizes (at least I think this was what he was trying to get at).

Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Hunter's assertions, to me he didn't come across in a way which made me dislike the guy. Perhaps he was a little arrogant at times but if so, it was fairly mild and not enough to make me think too poorly of him. This is what left me wondering if Sam, the so called rationalist, was letting his emotions get the better of him, being oversensitive to a little criticism.

That's when I checked Hunter's twitter page to see some of the "trolling" Sam was referring to. And holy shit, Sam wasn't exaggerating when he said Hunter sent or directed 400 messages to him. In all fairness, most of the tweets are responses to others people in which Hunter tagged Sam for some reason. But still, I counted over 500 tweets from Hunter from January 1st to April 16th that had something to do with Sam. Though most I'd consider mildly harassing some are downright dickish. The weird thing about this is that Hunter repeatedly points to the work of Jonathan Haidt in support of his view that Sam's rational approach is alienating to religious people.  But strangely, his messages to Sam are completely contrary to what Haidt suggests on how to communicate with people and persuade them to your way of thinking. To quote from his book, The Righteous Mind, he writes:

"If you want to change people’s minds, you’ve got to talk to their elephants. Dale Carnegie was one of the greatest elephant-whisperers of all time. In his classic book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Carnegie repeatedly urged readers to avoid direct confrontations. Instead he advised people to ‘begin in a friendly way,’ to ‘smile,’ to ‘be a good listener,’ and to ‘never say “you’re wrong.”’ The persuader’s goal should be to convey respect, warmth, and an openness to dialogue before stating one’s own case.

So I'm pretty sure Haidt wouldn't agree with Hunter's snide, obsessed, borderline neurotic approach. Though Hunter maybe winning points with those already in his 'tribe', to the casual observer such as myself, his twitter attacks toward Sam simply make me think he's an asshole.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017


Confusing entertainment when ventriloquists Rudi Rok and Sari Aalto get together.

Post-it Note Persuasion

Randy Garner of Sam Houston University found that when asking someone to do something, adding a personal message on a sticky note led to higher response rates.

In one study, Garner randomly selected 150 full time faculty members at major universities to complete a survey. The participants were divided into three groups of fifty:

Group A received the survey and cover letter.
Group B received the survey and cover letter with a personal message written on the upper right hand corner of the cover letter asking “Please take a few minutes to complete this for us. Thank you!”
Group C received the survey and cover letter with a Post-it note attached with the same message that was written on the cover letter in Group B.

The results showed that participants who received the survey with the Post-it note message returned the surveys significantly more than the other two groups.

Group A: 36% completed and returned the survey.
Group B: 48% completed and returned the survey.
Group C: 76% completed and returned the survey.

Garner conducted variations of the experiment and found similar results. He believes the Post-it message is likely viewed by the recipient as a personal appeal or request for a favor, which conjures strong societal norms of polite, reciprocal compliance.

Post-It® GARNER POST-IT PERSUASION Note Persuasion: A Sticky Influence

Monday, April 3, 2017

Misleading Vividness

Misleading Vividness is a fallacy in which a very small number of particularly dramatic events are taken to outweigh a significant amount of statistical evidence. This sort of "reasoning" has the following form:
1. Dramatic or vivid event X occurs (and is not in accord with the majority of the statistical evidence).
2. Therefore events of type X are likely to occur.
This sort of reasoning is fallacious because the mere fact that an event is particularly vivid or dramatic does not make the event more likely to occur, especially in the face of significant statistical evidence.


Joe: "When I was flying back to school, the pilot came on the intercom and told us that the plane was having engine trouble. I looked out the window and I saw smoke billowing out of the engine nearest me. We had to make an emergency landing and there were fire trucks everywhere. I had to spend the next six hours sitting in the airport waiting for a flight. I was lucky I didn't die! I'm never flying again."
Drew: "So how are you going to get home over Christmas break?"
Joe: "I'm going to drive. That will be a lot safer than flying."
Drew: "I don't think so. You are much more likely to get injured or killed driving than flying."
Joe: "I don't buy that! You should have seen the smoke pouring out of that engine! I'm never getting on one of those death traps again!"

Also see Hasty Generalization

The Nizkor Project: Misleading Vividness