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belief poll #1

I think I'm going to start taking a series of surveys about people's beliefs. I've always been fascinated by belief/epistemology, how beliefs form, how people justify them, how different they can be in different social groups, etc. I wanted to put many more questions in the first poll, but it limits the number of questions to 15 so I had to stop there. Another reason for doing this is that I want to get started thinking more about creating some kind of epistemology-net, where it's easier to track different cultural, scientific, and political beliefs and people can register their opinions about different subjects and their justifications for them, and any expert credentials they have on the subject. I think that people should share and talk about beliefs more in general, to help accelerate memetic evolution, and improve the quality of beliefs held by people across the world. You can't do much with a simple poll, but I at least made them each a scale from 1 to 10 where 10 is "yes, definitely!", 1 is "no way!" and 5 is "don't know" or "haven't thought about it". These polls won't accomplish much in the way of the larger goal of getting an epistemology-net started, but they will hopefully at least give me more of a sense of what people's opinions are out there other than my own. (Even the questions one asks tend to be biased by your own perspective, as I'm sure mine are.) I'll try to put a mix of questions, some which I feel strongly about and others which I'm not so sure about. I tried to word them as clearly as possible, but obviously there is always ambiguity so some may depend on how you interpret the question... feel free to take whatever interpretation seems most appropriate to you.

Poll #1412180 belief poll #1

Is there intelligent life on other planets (besides earth)?

Mean: 7.33 Median: 8 Std. Dev 2.24
1
1(2.5%)
2
1(2.5%)
3
0(0.0%)
4
2(5.0%)
5
5(12.5%)
6
3(7.5%)
7
7(17.5%)
8
7(17.5%)
9
6(15.0%)
10
8(20.0%)

Will humans ever develop the technology to be able to travel through time backwards (into the past)?

Mean: 2.95 Median: 2 Std. Dev 1.77
1
9(22.5%)
2
13(32.5%)
3
5(12.5%)
4
3(7.5%)
5
6(15.0%)
6
2(5.0%)
7
2(5.0%)
8
0(0.0%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
0(0.0%)

Has the earth ever been visited by aliens (intelligent lifeforms from other planets)?

Mean: 3.00 Median: 2.5 Std. Dev 1.58
1
6(15.0%)
2
14(35.0%)
3
7(17.5%)
4
4(10.0%)
5
6(15.0%)
6
2(5.0%)
7
1(2.5%)
8
0(0.0%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
0(0.0%)

Can a person's consciousness continue for years after their body dies? (assuming only current day technology is available)

Mean: 2.62 Median: 2 Std. Dev 2.44
1
19(47.5%)
2
8(20.0%)
3
5(12.5%)
4
0(0.0%)
5
4(10.0%)
6
1(2.5%)
7
0(0.0%)
8
0(0.0%)
9
1(2.5%)
10
2(5.0%)

Can a person's consciousness continue for years after the body dies? (assuming another 500 years of technological advancement)

Mean: 7.22 Median: 8 Std. Dev 2.20
1
1(2.5%)
2
0(0.0%)
3
1(2.5%)
4
1(2.5%)
5
8(20.0%)
6
5(12.5%)
7
1(2.5%)
8
10(25.0%)
9
6(15.0%)
10
7(17.5%)

Are there any properties of the world which are not determined by mathematical relationships?

Mean: 3.72 Median: 2 Std. Dev 3.18
1
14(38.9%)
2
5(13.9%)
3
4(11.1%)
4
0(0.0%)
5
4(11.1%)
6
1(2.8%)
7
1(2.8%)
8
1(2.8%)
9
3(8.3%)
10
3(8.3%)

Will it ever be possible for humans to travel faster than the local speed of light in a vacuum?

Mean: 4.11 Median: 4 Std. Dev 2.30
1
4(10.5%)
2
10(26.3%)
3
3(7.9%)
4
3(7.9%)
5
9(23.7%)
6
3(7.9%)
7
2(5.3%)
8
3(7.9%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
1(2.6%)

Is it possible to communicate with other humans telepathically? (assuming current technology)

Mean: 3.10 Median: 2 Std. Dev 2.96
1
17(43.6%)
2
9(23.1%)
3
2(5.1%)
4
2(5.1%)
5
2(5.1%)
6
1(2.6%)
7
0(0.0%)
8
2(5.1%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
4(10.3%)

Will it ever be possible to communicate with other humans telepathically? (assuming another 500 years of technological advancement)

Mean: 6.90 Median: 8 Std. Dev 2.87
1
2(5.0%)
2
2(5.0%)
3
3(7.5%)
4
2(5.0%)
5
4(10.0%)
6
4(10.0%)
7
2(5.0%)
8
4(10.0%)
9
7(17.5%)
10
10(25.0%)

Is the increase in global temperature of the earth over the past 150 years primarily due to the manmade production of carbon dioxide?

Mean: 6.95 Median: 7 Std. Dev 2.67
1
2(5.0%)
2
1(2.5%)
3
2(5.0%)
4
3(7.5%)
5
4(10.0%)
6
4(10.0%)
7
5(12.5%)
8
2(5.0%)
9
9(22.5%)
10
8(20.0%)

Have there been any negative consequences of global warming so far?

Mean: 7.62 Median: 8 Std. Dev 2.18
1
0(0.0%)
2
2(5.0%)
3
0(0.0%)
4
2(5.0%)
5
3(7.5%)
6
4(10.0%)
7
3(7.5%)
8
11(27.5%)
9
5(12.5%)
10
10(25.0%)

Is there an underlying purpose of the universe?

Mean: 2.95 Median: 2 Std. Dev 2.25
1
17(42.5%)
2
5(12.5%)
3
3(7.5%)
4
3(7.5%)
5
9(22.5%)
6
0(0.0%)
7
1(2.5%)
8
1(2.5%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
1(2.5%)

Is there a universal purpose for humanity (beyond the sum of all individual goals)?

Mean: 2.75 Median: 2 Std. Dev 2.01
1
14(35.0%)
2
9(22.5%)
3
7(17.5%)
4
1(2.5%)
5
6(15.0%)
6
1(2.5%)
7
1(2.5%)
8
0(0.0%)
9
0(0.0%)
10
1(2.5%)

Will humans ever receive contact from intelligent extraterrestrial life?

Mean: 5.38 Median: 5 Std. Dev 2.29
1
3(7.5%)
2
2(5.0%)
3
4(10.0%)
4
2(5.0%)
5
11(27.5%)
6
4(10.0%)
7
9(22.5%)
8
1(2.5%)
9
2(5.0%)
10
2(5.0%)

If you could live forever, would you want to?

Mean: 7.65 Median: 8.5 Std. Dev 2.63
1
2(5.0%)
2
1(2.5%)
3
1(2.5%)
4
0(0.0%)
5
5(12.5%)
6
2(5.0%)
7
5(12.5%)
8
4(10.0%)
9
5(12.5%)
10
15(37.5%)

Comments

( 24 comments — Leave a comment )
agentsteel53
Jun. 7th, 2009 12:42 am (UTC)
Will humans ever develop the technology to be able to travel through time backwards (into the past)?

I've always thought that this would be possible, but the fact that it hasn't been observed yet implies either:

1) a very diligent adherence to some Prime Directive of non-interference with the past (which, given our species, I highly doubt will be obeyed universally)

2) the impossibility of time travel (but where's the fun in that?)

or 3) the idea that there is a point in time beyond which we cannot travel backwards - i.e. the invention of some sort of device which allows time travelers to return to it. This invention has not yet been devised, and therefore we do not see time travelers. (here's hoping, because time travel is fun)
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 12:58 am (UTC)
Will it ever be possible to communicate with other humans telepathically? (assuming another 500 years of technological advancement)

This is a bit tricky; we communicate over long distances awfully easily now, after all, so what does it take to make it "telepathic"? If cell phone signals went directly to our auditory nerve, would that be "telepathic"? Even with a fairly restrictive definition, I'm guessing it's eventually possible, but I can't imagine why one would want the option when communication is so easy already.
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 01:40 am (UTC)
I noticed that you answered a 1 or a 10 for 12 out of the 15 questions. I have a feeling you're going to win the award for the most confident out of all the respondents. I guess I did say to "choose your own interpretation" though which sort of gives you license to be superconfident. I probably should have said to leave some uncertainty there if there are multiple "reasonable interpretations" you can think of, some of which you would agree with and some of which you'd disagree with... that's more how I answered it (otherwise I would have more 1's and 10's).

Regarding telepathy, I started to write out a description of how I'd define it, but it got too long and unwieldy so I went back to just leaving it as "telepathic" and letting people interpret it themselves. For me, the key distinction between what we have now and telepathy would be whether you have to physically move your mouth to speak, or move your hands to type on a keyboard. If you can transmit thoughts just by thinking, and someone else receives them (presumably without anyone around them hearing them too), that's telepathy. The most difficult part would be decoding speechlike "subvocal" patterns in the brain and translating it to a signal that could be transmitted. That may take a long time, and maybe it will never be feasible if there is too much other noise in the brain that screws it up. The receiving end is way easier.

Regarding your 10 for manmade global warming, the IPCC only gave a 9 out of 10 for it, which was the consensus of a whole lot of people. Do you give a 10 because you think that there were people weighted into the consensus who made it come out less strong than it should have been?

Based on your "1" for ever being contacted by alien life, did you interpret this to include receiving a signal that they were just broadcasting outward in every direction (not necessarily intended for us)? I intended it to include that, but I could possibly agree with your 1 is if you are restricting it to a scenario where they were deliberately trying to get ahold of us in particular (which I suppose is a valid interpretation of "contact"). For the more general scenario (intercepting any signal that was clearly generated by intelligent life) your 1 seems way overconfident. Your 10 for negative global warming consequences also seems way overconfident.
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:03 am (UTC)
Yeah, I can maybe allow slightly more wiggle room if I think hard about other interpretations to allow. But only slightly.

If you don't require that telepathy be able to express the full range of verbal communication, then the technology is nearly here if not here already (there was that experiment with monkeys playing video games with their mind...). But getting beyond the level of sending signals saying "up", "down", "left", etc sounds pretty difficult.

The IPCC conclusions are based on the consensus of a very cautious group of people. I think there are far too many independent lines of evidence, both purely empirical and theoretical, to have any real doubt about the answer. (It's a little subtle, though, because you said "primarily" and if you were to focus only on warming from, say, 1800 to 1980, it becomes much trickier to tell how much of it is man-made. But I think the sharp rise in the last couple of decades is unambiguous. The next few decades will be even more unambiguous.)

Based on your "1" for ever being contacted by alien life, did you interpret this to include receiving a signal that they were just broadcasting outward in every direction (not necessarily intended for us)?

Yeah, I was probably misinterpreting and thinking this meant contact aimed at us. I think contact in general is improbable, but possible. There's another subtlety with "Is there intelligent life on other planets (besides earth)?": is this planets within our current Hubble patch? Planets anywhere in the eternally inflating multiverse that we might or might not be living in? I don't even know where on a scale of 1-10 I would put the multiverse possibility....
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:11 am (UTC)
I'm also rethinking the "want to live forever" question. Saying no might have been too hasty.
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 07:52 am (UTC)
That's funny, because I was thinking I should have made my 3 a 2 on that one after I answered. I originally tried to make 2 questions, one about living for 1000 years and one about living forever. But lj cut me off at 15 questions, so I had to delete the one about 1000 years.

My personal answer is that I'm pretty sure I'd enjoy living 1000 years, and probably even 10,000 years, but am also pretty sure I would hate living forever. I tend to think that either I would be insanely bored, or I will have learned and grown so much that there is no meaningful sense in which the original person I was still exists after that long.
geheimnisnacht
Jun. 8th, 2009 02:52 am (UTC)
Good point.

I think it depends on some of the other answers, such as FTL travel and other intelligent life existing.

Also, if we assume you have the ability to remove memories at will (or just randomly) could make it bearable too.
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:16 am (UTC)
Your 10 for negative global warming consequences also seems way overconfident.

It didn't say how bad they had to be. It's easy to point to local existing bad effects of warming (CA wildfires, the massive heat wave in Europe several years ago that killed thousands) and note that, whatever local climate patterns might be driving them, some fraction of the total effect is from the global forcing.
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:19 am (UTC)
See also. (Sorry to leave so many short comments.)
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 07:40 am (UTC)
Regarding California wildfires,

I went to a public lecture by Richard Muller about 6 months ago (also talked to him in my office afterwards for a while too) where a lot of it was aimed at trying to separate fact from fiction in global warming. This is a man who has had a very diverse career in physics, starting in particle physics under Luis Alvarez, then moving into cosmology, then earth sciences, and now serves on a US DoD advisory board who publishes reports on everything from nuclear threats to global warming reports. Also happens to be a MacArthur fellow, and author of Physics for Future Presidents.

Anyway, he spent about half the time debunking the conservatives' skepticism about whether global warming is manmade, and the other half of the time debunking the environmental "alarmists" such as Al Gore, whom he says is just as much a "climate skeptic" for disbelieving the consensus in the other direction from the conservatives. One of his examples was the graphs of the frequency of wildfires and hurricanes that Gore used in his movie... according to Muller, he tricks people into thinking that the number of hurricanes has been increasing by reporting it in terms of property damage unadjusted for inflation, which is obviously going up. And he tricks people into thinking that the California wildfires is going up by only recording certain types of wildfires. He showed his own graphs of both of them, which indicated that neither the frequency of hurricanes nor the frequency of wildfires has changed noticeably at all within the past few decades.

Someone asked him in Q&A what other evidence of global warming is there besides the fraction of a degree increase in global temperature. He said that the IPCC reports only acknowledge two pieces of substantiated evidence, just the temperature increase itself and the fact that the arctic polar icecap is shrinking. But he added that personally, he didn't think they should have included the arctic icecap in the report, since the antarctic icecap has been growing whereas climate models have predicted both of them should be shrinking.

Maybe he is biased, but he seemed like he was really trying to be as balanced about the whole thing as he could and that he's done a lot of investigation into it to get the whole story.

After thinking about it, though, I probably should make my 4 on that one into a 6 or more. The truth is, I really can't tell... I am skeptical of articles I see like the Guardian one you linked to... I've seen similar ones in Sci Am. I think most or all of the bad things that happen are going to be in the future, not in the past... and it's very tempting to take any slightly unusual pattern and attribute it to global warming. Saying that some small fraction of it is due to global warming seems no better than saying that some small fraction of the failure of a particular woman to do well in a mathematical field is due to a slight shift in the bell curve for all women.

Edited at 2009-06-07 07:44 am (UTC)
onhava
Jun. 7th, 2009 03:23 pm (UTC)
But he added that personally, he didn't think they should have included the arctic icecap in the report, since the antarctic icecap has been growing whereas climate models have predicted both of them should be shrinking.

I might respond to more of this later, but for now let me just say that this is bullshit. What is observed is in line with model predictions: West Antarctica is losing ice (and warming) and East Antarctica is gaining ice (and cooling). There are a number of obvious differences between Antarctica and the Arctic (the presence of land, the fact that that land isn't quite centered with respect to the pole, the ozone hole), the models take them into account, and the results match the data pretty well. See e.g. this.
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 10:34 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I went and checked on what the exact date was when Muller gave that lecture... it was Feb 11, 2009. So literally 7 days after that blog post was made, and about a month after the Nature article had come out.

So probably, he was aware of it although I'm wondering whether he may not have been... and if so, if he would retract what he said about antarctica in light of it. I'm almost tempted to email him and ask.
flamingnerd
Jun. 7th, 2009 07:01 am (UTC)
yup. pretty much what i was gonna say. we already read each others minds. it wasn't gonna happen by magic, but with language. written, spoken, whatever.

language/communication devices = telepathy

it's getting faster and better with technology, but we've had it for a while.
(Deleted comment)
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
Fair enough.

For my interpretation of it...

When you're asleep, you're unconscious, when you're awake, you're conscious... so the main question would be can you still continue to feel like you're awake even though you no longer have a body (or no longer have the body you were born with, for instance, if it got replaced with silicon chips or something).

There are lots of questions where I feel like we'd need a better definition of consciousness, but for me I feel like this one is good enough for these two questions.
(Deleted comment)
spoonless
Jun. 8th, 2009 04:28 am (UTC)
Couldn't you also test it by trying it out yourself? Well, I guess you would only know if it worked :)
(Deleted comment)
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
As seems typical for surveys, there was some ambiguity that might've impacted my responses.

* "Will humans ever develop the technology to be able to travel through time backwards (into the past)?"

I'm not sure we haven't got the ability already.

* "Can a person's consciousness continue for years after their body dies? (assuming only current day technology is available)"

In what form? As a separate yet incorporeal entity? Saying that I am confident consciousness continues for years after the body dies isn't the same as saying I imagine individualized consciousness continuing for years after death. Chances are, I've a very different concept of self and consciousness than were encompassed in this question.

* "Are there any properties of the world which are not determined by mathematical relationships?"

"Determined by"? This I object to outright. Math is a language and corresponds with relationships. It doesn't determine them.

* "Will it ever be possible for humans to travel faster than the local speed of light in a vacuum?"

"Travel"? We've already figured out a few ways of traveling without moving, and I imagine Universe has imagined a few more than we have...



Lastly, of all the results so far, the one that shocks - and pleases - me most is for "Is there an underlying purpose of the universe?"
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 09:02 am (UTC)

"Determined by"? This I object to outright. Math is a language and corresponds with relationships. It doesn't determine them.

Very interesting objection. I found the results of this question the most fascinating of all of them. 12 people picked 1, 2 or 3, two people picked 10, one picked 8 and one 5, plus your objection to the whole question (which I think is basically a 10, but it was better that you explained it). When writing this question, it went through several different phrasings. It started out as "is materialism false?" and then went through several changes and elaborations because I imagined various objections to the phrasing of it, and wound up being what I feel like is the issue at the heart of materialism, but perhaps not strictly equivalent to it. It's basically the question of supervenience, but phrased in a way that I prefer so that it avoids speaking of "physical properties" and instead speaks of mathematical relationships. Also interesting is that the 2 people so far who picked 10 are the people with the heaviest philosophy backgrounds, whereas the 12 who picked 1-3 mostly have science or engineering backgrounds. I picked 3, but if you'd asked me a year or two ago I would have said 1 or 2... although I still debated whether to pick 2 or 3 for it. I'm getting significantly more open-minded I think!
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 09:13 am (UTC)

Lastly, of all the results so far, the one that shocks - and pleases - me most is for "Is there an underlying purpose of the universe?"

You are the only one who thinks there is a purpose to the universe, I see. What about that pleases you? And also, if you're certain that it has a purpose, do you know what that purpose is and can you tell the all of the rest of us? And if you don't know what it is, then how can you be sure that it has a purpose?
ankh_f_n_khonsu
Jun. 7th, 2009 04:03 pm (UTC)
Ah! I'd misread those results! Now that I go back and look again, I should correct my previous statement: "Lastly, of all the results so far, the one that shocks - and displeases - me most is for "Is there underlying purpose in the universe?"



You are the only one who thinks there is a purpose to the universe, I see.

Well, so far and among this cohort, but certainly not 'the only one'. ;)



And also, if you're certain that it has a purpose, do you know what that purpose is and can you tell the all of the rest of us? And if you don't know what it is, then how can you be sure that it has a purpose?

On the surface, that seems like a very reasonable question, but appearances can be deceiving. Let's assume some means exists by way of which I (or others) could experience the purpose of Universe. Do you think I could convey that meaning through words and transmit it to another? Asking what the purpose of Universe is seems a lot like asking what love is. If you're silent and open to the experience, you stand a better chance of finding answers, but trying to confine that experience to words dooms us to misconstruals.

Like Buckminster Fuller and many others, I see teleology as a basic understanding rather than a matter of contention. It often seems like people try their best to avoid recognizing this underlying design... This might have something to do with the realization undercutting people's narcissism, and the ego doesn't typically go down without a fight.

Finally, it's interesting to note that many mathematicians have come to accept teleology through their experience of math and nature. For them, math doesn't refute teleology, it affirms it.
browascension
Jun. 7th, 2009 05:12 am (UTC)
I object to 5 or 6 signifying "haven't thought about it". It seems that if someone reads the question, they're thinking about it. And if they don't have an opinion, or don't want to think about it further, they should skip the question.
flamingnerd
Jun. 7th, 2009 07:02 am (UTC)
ditto. my 5's are all "i don't know"s
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 09:39 am (UTC)

It seems that if someone reads the question, they're thinking about it.

I think that some of my answers would be pretty different if I had answered the first time I had thought about each of these questions, and it would be interesting to track how my opinions shifted as I spent more and more years of thinking about each. I guess I'm not sure I understand what your objection is... is there a significant difference between not knowing because the information is out there but you haven't pursued it or processed it enough, and not knowing because the information is simply not out there?
spoonless
Jun. 7th, 2009 09:42 am (UTC)
just to be clear... you are perfectly welcome to not answer any of them for any reason; I'm just trying to understand why this distinction (between not knowing and not having thought about it) is important to you.
( 24 comments — Leave a comment )

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