[extropy-chat] Are vaccinations useless?

Lee Corbin lcorbin at tsoft.com
Thu Mar 16 04:36:52 UTC 2006

Hal wrote

> Several commenters here have noted with relief that the evidence I have
> presented does not seem to reject the role of medical and scientific
> research in improving longevity.  I don't know that it necessarily
> confirms it, either, though.  As I said, it is really still a mystery
> what effects played a predominant role.  From what I have read it is
> possible that improved knowledge of germs and contagion has helped make
> health measures more effective.  OTOH Robin has citations to research
> indicating, for example, that improved water supplies don't help.
> I've only spent a few hours studying this; he has spent years.

One thing I'm absolutely sure of: that I'm not the only one that
really appreciates the work you've done here, even going so far
as to copy lengthy paragraphs from off-line sources. Thanks!

I do note that you began the above paragraph with reference to the
feelings of certain readers.  And here is more:

> In any case, I don't think we can justify a feeling of relief even if it
> does turn out that medical knowledge has helped....
> ...
> Bearing in mind Robin's paper on "muddled thinking", how do you want
> to react to these facts?  Do you want to accept them, to accept the
> expert consensus?  Or will you refuse to believe it?  Are you thinking
> rationally, or emotionally?  Which way do you want to think?

This is one of those arenas where I'm pretty sure that I myself don't
have any prior axes to grind, and it's not where my beliefs have been
either strong or developed. It also so happens that I'm finding everything
you're relating to be persuasive.

Still, this focus on the "emotional" thinking that may or may not 
characterize certain people who dispute your conclusions is, I 
think, misguided.

The best way to illustrate, perhaps, is to imagine how *you* would
feel (or will feel) months or years from now if yet more evidence
is presented on behalf of the viewpoint opposite to which you are
inclining. And I use the word "feel" with great deliberateness. I
am sure that we react negatively to information that challenges a
view or views that we have held for some time; there are many
obvious and not-so-obvious reasons for this. And I think that
we *all* do it.

And when this happens, it cannot be so simply put that we are merely
reacting "emotionally". I reiterate that the dichotomy between emotional
and non-emotional thinking has been dealt severe blows, and it's best
for us to avoid characterizing our mental processes or stances in such
stark terms.

> And the real sticking point Robin raises is this: even if you find this
> convincing, as I do, will you change your habits?  Will you stop going
> to the doctor, and even harder, stop taking your kids or loved ones?
> That's a hard decision!  I can feel my mind squirming, going into "excuse
> mode".

No kidding it's a hard decision!  And I suspect that it is *not* one
that can be arrived at entirely "rationally". That is, our long-term
judgment, our intuition, and our experience must be---and will be---
brought to bear. I'll state it bluntly: anyone is a fool who is 
persuaded by strictly verbal arguments that his or her long term
behavior has been entirely correct or incorrect. Moreover, I'll state
that *no* one reading this actually behaves this way (i.e. hyper-
rationally; we'll all continue to exercise our own prudent judgment
in these matters, only allowing arguments and counter-arguments to
have a limited effect.

Yes, I will grant that some people *do* seem to react so viscerally to
disagreeable information that they succeed in blocking it all out and
rationalizing it away. But I don't know of any test to distinguish 
between doing that and simply being conservative with regard to coming
to believe something entirely new, or distinguishing between that and
the legitimate feeling of annoyance when one may have to rework his or
her whole base of belief about something.

> That's what I call it when you don't want to accept the reality of
> something and you are searching for reasons to disbelieve.  It's a very
> specific and noticeable mental state, if you pay attention.  Frankly I
> suspect that many posters here have been spending time in excuse mode.
> Pay attention to your own thoughts and see if you can feel it happening.

Yes, I think that many of us *can* feel it happening, but I don't think
that it's so specific. As I said above, I'll bet that it cannot be 
easily distinguished from the normal annoyance at the inconvenience of
changing long-held positions (such as I invited you to imagine yourself
some months hence, or perhaps already).

(There are *so* many mechanisms at work here---from fear of loss of esteem
that arises when one publicly changes his mind (closely related to fear of
vacillation), all the way to normal skepticism of sudden new information.
I won't try to list them all now.)


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