At the time of writing this, I work as a Social Worker helping aged people decide on and access the best, for them, care. For some that is going home, for some that is going to a care facility. What intrigues me is the methods that some family members have of dealing with the guilt of their loved one going to a care facility instead of home.

It strikes me as odd how people can “promise to never … [fill in your own ending]”. Never is such a strong word, and in these circumstances they are laden with huge amounts of emotion, promise and ultimately failure. The most common I have seen that causes strife is “I will never let you go to a nursing home”. I have witnessed families struggle for years, tearing themselves apart, destroying their own lives in maintaining a foolish promise to spouses, parents and siblings that are beyond understanding or caring. Often the recipient of their care is also suffering substandard levels of care, because families are untrained and fatigue, and fatigue can lead to elder abuse.

Part of our role is to assess the care needs of an individual and make recommendations to the families. When we recommend that someone needs to go to care due to significant care needs, the meeting covers a process where families need to accept the reality of our data, the consequences of their decisions and finally make a plan for an outcome they can live with.

Frequently families have three major reactions to the data we give them – disbelief, acceptance and relief. Disbelief is tough, because it suggests that we are making up our data. Doubtful family members will try to explain away our results, either by suggesting that our tests were invalid for some reason or excusing their loved ones performance. My favourite quote is “you would do too well if you were 95”. Quite right I wouldn’t, but that doesn’t change the fact that they can’t take their own medication, need help getting out of bed at night to go to the toilet and forget who their own children are.

Acceptance is easy, the facts are as presented and the families can get on with the next bit – what to do with the information.

Relief is often an interesting one. It is a subset of acceptance. More to the point, it confirms what the family suspected but wouldn’t allow themselves to admit. Finally someone else is saying what they thought, but were to afraid to voice. Now they can accept that they can put the burden down, because it really is too hard.

To make a plan, one needs to know what the goal is. Often families say “I want what’s best for X”. That’s very nice, but who is defining “best”? Frequently I see families being guided by X, who no longer has comprehension of consequences, logistics and cost – financial, emotional and time. Another common bias is that best is at home, despite the lack of 24 hour care, despite the lack of general resource, despite the poor layout and lack of suitable equipment. Some families state they will provide the man hours – which takes 8 people to do properly, and they may just manage a reasonable effort if they don’t want a life – or the financial resources to make it possible. If your family is large, and/or rich, this is a possibility. Most aren’t though. As we go through the realistic costs to families to do this option, we often move the people who are in denial past this to the point of accepting that their hopes are not going to bear fruit. In effect, we put a monetary value on their denial and they can see what it is really worth.

I find it very odd that people will refuse to visit an aged care facility, trusting in their memories of what the standards portrayed in the media were 20 years ago over easily accessible up to date realistic evidence. Fear is an attractive agent, pushing us to deny the simplicity of looking at facts and letting the fear go. A large part of the reason for this is my favourite crutch – cognitive dissonance. If investigating the evidence undermines the emotion invested in a stance, then be damned with the evidence.

Once the plans have been made, some families will spend a substantial amount of time justifying to us why this is the right thing. The relief they feel for letting the burden go is balanced by the guilt associated with this decision which they feel betrays some kind of trust. The trust that can be betrayed is not placing someone in an aged care facility, it is failing to visit them afterwards. Yet the emphasis is on the initial breach of contract – “I will never put you in a nursing home”.

The Focus of our Relationships

A couple of years ago, I wrote about Dynamic Focus. This is a furthering development of that concept ( ).

I’m a social worker, dealing in and around social issues. I frequently need to open up to clients enough to create a relationship that they feel comfortable with sharing significant and specific details to me such that I have data to formulate a planned and structured intervention for the client. Yet I don’t want to tell the client anywhere near as much information about myself as I want them to tell me. This creates a non-equal relationship.

Relationships are shared. A bit of me, a bit of you and we have a relationship – it’s just the amounts that vary, which then varies the qualities of the relationship. I picture this as a gradient of colour between myself and yourself along a line between the two of us. Right next to me is pretty much all of my colour, and next to you is yours. Somewhere between is the mix that gives the best results. This location I refer to as a point of focus. Different types of relationships will have this point of focus at different key points.

For the sake of this article, I am just focusing on the one axis, simplifying sharing as how much personal information is shared. I am defining sharing as both giving and receiving information. For example, I could tell you everything and you may not hear it – that isn’t communicating, which sabotages this dynamic of sharing. A sharing relationship has to be reciprocal.

A doctor will have the focus very close to the client and quite away from themselves. We expect that because we are not having a personal relationship with the doctor. I have the focus near the client – about half way between the client and the mid point between us. This is because my relationship is more personal than that of the doctor, but we aren’t friends. The mid point is where a good friend should be. If I am a selfish friend, the focus will be closer to me. If I am self absorbed, the focus will be very close to me. Some forms of intellectual disability or alternate thinking such as autism tend to have focuses around there. Note though that not all people with alternate thinking are the same, especially amongst those with a diagnosis of some kind.

People who have healthy dynamic equal relationships with others will notice very quickly when the other person isn’t reciprocating equally. If there is a good reason for this non-uniform reciprocation, it can be categorised and dismissed, much like the relationship with the doctor. When the relationship is supposed to be equal, it can be covered up to some extent with language and cultural differences. Yet when a direct question that should be simply answered is ignored or obfuscated, it should lead very rapidly to a recognition of a scam or reveal that the relationship is not as equal as it should be. Either way, further investigation should go into what actually is rather than what one hopes is.

When unequal relationships are the norm, people may not notice the inequality in what is being portrayed as an equal relationship. After all, when a client asks me questions about my family, I will answer with a simplified, non-in-depth answer, generalising what I say and mostly evading the question, unless some aspect of the story will help them. Then I will tell them very specific details that keep the anonymity of my family intact – that is, a version of my families story that highlights the learning point without invading my families privacy. I don’t know many social workers who do this well, so it’s not a recommended methodology. Yet the clients seem really happy with this and don’t notice the stories gaps and flaws because they are use to being self absorbed, or are not use to equal relationships. Friends, on the other hand, will notice the lack of parity and will query it.

Many people who primarily experience non-equal relationships are generally desperate for an equal relationship. As such they are quite willing to blind themselves to the truth, believing the scam is real – just in case it is. The more they emotionally invest in the perceived relationship, the less they are willing or able to think analytically about the interaction. This forms a cognitive dissonance between what they perceive and what they feel, allowing them to ignore their experiences in search of that feeling. Many of the people who are not use to equality in their relationships mistake a healthy sharing dynamic for the feeling of being wanted because they are lonely. They become vulnerable because of this desire to be wanted and equal.

This saddens me.

It is important that professional keep the purpose of their relationships open and honest to minimise mistakes. Yet when a client is only familiar with professional relationships they are vulnerable to misuse and abuse. Professionals who interact with a client need to be aware of this and help guide their clients towards healthy relationships and give them the skills to perceive a ‘use’ relationship instead of ‘share’ relationship.


Logical Fallacy #4: Argument from Final Consequences – The Teleological Argument

It is well known that the way that we humans experience time, that every event has a consequence. Teleology is the philosophical idea that events lead to an ultimate end and finality. To be final requires some form of destiny. To have destiny implies a plan, which requires the will of a designer or planner, generally seen as the creator or a god. The error is to see the end result requiring the initial conditions rather than recognising that multiple different initial conditions can end in a similar result – that is, this philosophy has the events and consequence equation back to front. The philosophy has a number of other issues, but when it comes to the Argument from Final Consequences, this is the bit we are interested in.

If I bump the cup off the table, then it will fall. Unimpeded the cup will fall to the ground and smash. Each event has a logical and predictable next event, which results in a final consequence. Yet it doesn’t. Their is no final consequence because the smashed cup will now be swept up by someone and put in the bin, the bin will be taken out to the street curb, the waste disposal company will pick it up and eventually someone may find the broken pieces of the cup in land fill many years later.

Final Consequences suggests that from the broken cup on the ground, one can determine that it was knocked off the table. Seems logical, and that may be true. Or someone may have misjudged the table and let the cup go at the side of the table when putting it down. More importantly Teleology suggests that if the final conclusion of the broken pieces of the cup are the land fill, then when the broken pieces are found, the examiner can figure out which table it was knocked off, because that is the only explanation that fits the destiny of the cup.

Teleological destiny precludes alternate chains of events leading to the specific circumstances that have resulted. Destiny requires a fixed outcome, which not only removes self will, but also implies that all the universe is fixed in someway – that what happens next is not only the only way it could have gone, and that it can be predicted by some being with sufficient resources. We refer to these beings as gods. The implication is generally that the god chose the outcome, and knew it was coming. A single fixed chain of events requires a fixed universe since any non-fixed chain could interfere with the fixed chain, which creates paradox.

Even if a god being able to predict the future were true, and there is no evidence to support this, it is then extremely arrogant for a human to assume they have this ability to understand the subtle causal chain of events that only a god can govern to backtrack the exact and specific events that lead to this outcome.

Examples of Argument’s from Final Consequences:

* Humans exist on this world, so the world was created to support humans, which means the universe was created to support this world and thus also support humans.

* Any woman who is raped was asking for it

* My winning the lottery happened because I had a miserable life

In all of these, the outcome is being used to justify the course of actions that the arguer believes to be true, regardless of any presence or absence of evidence.

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Why is the sky – An introduction to science

I was asked by a child “why is the sky?” and I couldn’t answer it, because this is a partial question. A full question includes both a subject and a specific testable item. “Why is the sky blue?” or “Why is the sky made of air?” or “Why is the sky so tall?”. Each testable item can be investigated and proven to be false, or evidence gathered to become closer to support the test criteria.

Take the first real question – “Why is the sky blue?” The first part to test is this: “Is the sky blue?” If the sky is green, then the question is faulty.

If the sky is blue, then the second part is to differentiate between “how” and “why”. How explains the process that gives the sky a blue colour. Why implies a reason, which in itself implies a will that creates that outcome.

“How” is something that can be discovered.

“Why” cannot if “why” includes a non-human intelligence. If we are looking to understand “why” without the will, then the answer is always entropy. Briefly, entropy is the system loosing energy, thus all things take the path to the least amount of energy. This can sometimes be confusing because the least path of energy may seem locally more energetic, yet overall have less. One can then ask “why entropy” and that is not answerable without suggesting a will or stating “because it is”. This is a side issue though, mostly we aren’t interested in “why” in science, but rather “how”.

First though, why science? The scientific method was created as a subset of philosophy to slow down the roundabout ride of philosophies about the world and to start testing the claims of “how things worked” to rule out the ones that didn’t.

For example “When did you stop beating your wife?” A great deal of resources could go into researching how violent I am, when my violence stopped, or even if it did. I could spend ages talking about my wife, about her life and so forth. None of this actually answers the question. So lets go back to the question itself. The first question should be, “do I have a wife”, followed by “did I ever beat her”? If the answer to either of these questions is no, then the original statement is a faulty statement and we can stop there. That is, let’s test the object and event of the statement first, and if either are false, stop investigating that line. In this case, not only do I not have a wife, I don’t beat this currently non-existent person either. So, end of line of philosophy.

Previous to the sub-school of philosophy, debates would last for centuries about what is, how it is and so on because no one stopped to test if it really is or isn’t. Here is an example of a continuing one – is there an ultimate god? If there is, what is it? Does this ultimate god care about humans? Who would win in a battle – the ultimate god or superman?

Here is the scientific take on it: Find the object, test the event. The object – Is there any evidence for a god? Here are the components to that question – evidence is the result of a test, and the test must have a result that either supports the questions, or proves the question false. In this case, there is no test for a god, because there is no result that proves the question false. Many tests can be done to support the claim “if there is an ultimate god, it must have created the universe, the universe exists, therefore the god exists”, but if it isn’t possible to have a result that indicates the claim is false, then the test is not valid “if there is no ultimate god, then it may not have created the universe, or the universe was not created at all, we are in the universe… so no solution”. If you do come up with a good test, please, let me know. This does not mean that there is no god – just that there is no test for it, thus no evidence for it. Since there is no evidence, don’t pursue this line any further.

Is the sky blue? This can be tested using a number of tools. Test the object and the event. Is there a sky? Yes, it is part of the atmosphere we live in, and exists between the Earth and space. Next the testable item – is the sky blue? Blue light is defined as a specific range of the light spectrum. If the tool that measures the part of the light spectrum coming from the sky is outside of that light spectrum, then the claim is false – that is, the sky is not blue. If the result is within the claim, then there is supportive evidence for that claim. It is not proven to be true. In this case, the light from the sky is within the light spectrum called blue.

Science does not prove things to be true. That is not in the nature of science. If you don’t believe me in this example, wait until night time and check your tools again.

A good question is to ask why science doesn’t prove things to be true? Well, truth is considered to be an objective immutable fact. That is, it can’t change. Our perception of the universe, even with the best tools we have, is only a fraction of what is really there in the universe. We can’t really define what we cannot observer or interpolate (worked out likelihoods between the bits we can observe), yet as our tools get better, we can observe more. To assume that what we have tested gives us truth is to rule out the ability to learn more about something. This is pretty arrogant and very limiting.

To go back to an earlier example: even though there is no current evidence (that is test with a useful result) for the existence of an ultimate god, if we did someday find this test and gain supportive evidence for the existence of god and it was verified, then science would accept that investigating god is worth spending time on. This is true for anything in the realm of science – without some basic evidence, no further investigation is worth doing. With some evidence, further investigation is worth doing. This doesn’t mean that a god exists, it just means their is some evidence.

This begs the question, how much evidence is needed for something to be considered proven, true or real? The answer is that science doesn’t prove things to be true or real. What it does is gathers evidence that moves the claim closer to objective truth. To move the claim requires refinement of the idea, as some parts are discounted due to evidence proving that aspect wrong, and other aspects are supported by the evidence.

Consider electricity. At first we knew that it was a object created by storms. Then humans created batteries around 2,500 years ago and harnessed certain properties of electricity (mostly electro plating). A few hundred years ago it was thought that tiny particles were travelling from one terminal to another, and later found to actually be the reverse direction. It was thought that electricity could only travel in one direction, then it was found that by using magnets to induce a current, the electricity could travel in two directions in alternating currents. Now electricity is split in all kinds of circuitry, recombined and forms the impulses that turn the text I’m writing into on/off switches that eventually make it to the thing you are reading.

If humans had looked at lightning and not learned about it by incremental steps, we would not have computers. To learn what we have, many ideas have been postulated, tested and discarded or furthered. The early ideas of electricity, when compared to what we know now, are quite ludicrous. Yet if we had dispensed with the testing because the first one showed the early idea about how electricity does what it does was false, we would not have developed computers today.

Lets compare this to unicorns. First of all, is there any evidence of unicorns? So far, no. Is it worth working out what they eat? No, because we haven’t passed the first step of finding evidence of the existence of unicorns. Is there any evidence of electricity? Yes, plenty. Is it worth working out what you can use it for? Yes, because we have evidence of its existence. Do unicorns exist? Probably not, but one unicorn turning up will certainly change opinions about their existence. Does electricity exist? Yes, see the earlier evidence. Should we act as if unicorns exist? Well, that is a personal choice, but scientifically we don’t until some evidence is provided that indicates the existence of unicorns.

So what is evidence? Evidence is not the result of a test, nor is it an observation. Always remember, an observation is an anecdote. To quote Dr Karl  Kruszelnicki, the plural for anecdote is anecdotes and has no weight beyond a single anecdote. Scientific evidence is a collection of results from a series of tests from a series of testers in carefully selected types of tests. Wow, that seems pretty loaded and stacked in someone’s favour. That is absolutely true – the favour is given towards weeding out inaccuracies, both individual human and poorly constructed tests – aka experiments. The goal is to further the confidence you have in an idea being closer to truth and more distant from error.

Here is the evolution of “scientific knowledge”. Of course, keep in mind, science doesn’t know things, it has confidence in ideas – the greater the evidence, the greater the confidence. Knowledge implies being aware of what the truth is, and as covered earlier, that is not possible. Okay, here we go from lowest confidence to highest:

– An idea (no results, no suggestion of how)

– A hypothesis (no results, a suggestion of how)

– An experiment (no results, a suggestion of how, a test that includes a way of distinguishing if the idea is false)

– Initial publication (If the results are useful, either for supporting or disproving an idea, the results are published in a systematic way, such that other people can replicate the experiment or indicate flaws in the experiment)

– More scientists perform the same experiment to see if the results are consistent (These too are published. If there is consensus, the idea is elevated to a concept, rule or law depending on the idea)

– Different experiments are performed to discover the limits of the idea (These too are published) All useful ideas have limits.

– With sufficient evidence from sufficient experiments and time, the idea is now elevated to the ultimate form – a Theory.

To disprove an idea that has been previously tested, the new results must equal or outweigh the previous results. Results are not measured just in quantity or quality, but rather a minimum quantity of quality.

Okay, so lets summarise.

* Science is a process of discovering the universe by testing ideas for validity. These evolve the ideas towards an objective truth, but will never actually get to this truth.

* Science is interested in discovering “how” things happen. “Why” is not scientific unless looking at the process of entropy.

* If there is no testable evidence for an idea, science does not explore that idea further.

* Science disproves an idea, or it supports an idea. It doesn’t prove an idea to be true.

* When science says “The Theory of X”, then the understanding of X is as close to truth as can be measured and tested, yet it still allows the understanding to evolve to a newer, more accurate version as more about the universe is discovered. This understanding of X is the one with the most confidence and is no longer disputed by reputable scientists.

– Examples of science undisputed by scientists

-> Gravity

-> Evolution

-> Climate Change and the role of humanity in the current climate change

-> Atomic theory

-> The existence of subatomic particles

-> Continental drift

-> The big bang

Logical Fallacy #3: Argument from Authority

An argument from authority has two forms. The most common is to state that because the arguer has a credential of some kind, then the statement they make must be true. The alternate is to render a statement made by someone without a credential as false.

The truth of a statement does not depend on the credential of the person who makes the statement. For example, if a professor of physics asks their two year old to repeat a statement about gravity, neither the professor of physics nor the two year old are necessarily telling a truth or falsehood due to who they are. Instead the statement itself must be true or false according to current scientific evidence.

In the above example, the professor of physics is far more likely to give an accurate statement about physics than he would about the current state of political support for science. It is tempting to laud his credentials when making a statement about science funding, as if he is an expert on that too. He isn’t.

When an expert witness is called, s/he must still be able to reference the source of their expert knowledge. This isn’t to say “I have a PhD in Physics”, it is to say “this fact is backed up by this evidence found from these experiments performed by these scientists”. An exception to that would be a commonly accepted idea in physics, such at the Theory of Gravity. Even so, s/he should be able to explain the methods of experiments done to test the theory.

Frequently an expert in a school of science is asked on the media to comment on a different school of science. This is poor form. They aren’t qualified to be an expert witness for that form of science. The assumption of accuracy of their statements based on their qualification is illogical. It is like asking a meteorologist which tyres to put on the four wheel drive. After all, they are an expert, right? Wrong. Yet an expert in meteorology may also be a four wheel drive enthusiast and be able to reference where to find the information, why these tyres are good or bad and so forth. Yet you wouldn’t say “John Smith, a meteorologist, recommends these tyres”.

By the same token, in the example above, the two year old’s statement isn’t necessarily wrong because it came from a two year old. The speaker of the information does not equate to validity, the science behind the statement (which is person independent) equates to the validity of the statement. That is, if there is not scientific evidence supporting the statement, then it has no credibility regardless of who makes the statement; and if there is scientific evidence supporting a statement, then it has credibility regardless of who makes the statement.

One hopes that a relevant expert in the field would know the topic better and not leap to faulty conclusions. Unfortunately that isn’t always true. Frequently the media will misunderstand the science involved in an experiment, not understanding the need for good methodology, peer review, the affect of sample size on the validity of results or even the difference between writing about the results and speculating on what it might mean or where to go from here.

A good rule of thumb when reading a mass media write up of something in science (or a infographic) is to check for references to a well known scientific journal. If there isn’t one, take the article/picture with a pinch of salt. If there is a reference, check out the reference and see if what was written reflects the abstract, and then the actual article itself.

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Logical Fallacy #2: Ad ignorantiam

Literally “Against Ignorance”, this fallacy assumes the truth of a statement for no direct evidence against it. For example, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is real, because science can’t disprove it.

A better stance to start from is a version of the null hypothesis. That is, if there is no evidence for it, then assume it doesn’t exist until you find some evidence that maybe it does. Please note that evidence means more than “look – it moved”, but rather a repeatable experiment with conclusive data that is tested by multiple people under proper conditions.

If you feel that your statement might borderline on this logical fallacy, insert Flying Spaghetti Monster or Rainbow Pooping Unicorn and see if the same logic you used proves that Flying Spaghetti Monster’s or Rainbow Pooping Unicorn’s now exist.

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Logical Fallacy #1: The Ad Hominem.

When an argument is met not with revealing factual errors, revealing logical errors or offering workable alternate explanations, but instead with an attack against the person, this is an ad hominem (lit “to the person”).

Our Australian political debate was full of ad hominem fallacies. Instead of addressing the topic, the politician attacked their opponent.

A common example is this:

Argument: “Climate change is no longer a scientific question, it is a scientific fact due to the overwhelming evidence that supports it”.

Ad hominem fallacy: “You must be stupid to believe such trash”.

The intelligence of the person has nothing to do with the validity the argument. Instead of attacking the argument, the respondent is attacking some aspect of the person. It makes just as much sense as saying “your point is invalid because you have blue eyes”.

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Feeling is very tiring

Today I went to a funeral. It was a teacher of my child’s. She is currently eleven, in year six. Her was the first and second year teacher at her school. The whole school pretty much shut down for the day and pretty much all of the students attended the funeral, then went back to the school which hosted the wake.

The attendance at the funeral was massive. More than the school went as this teacher was a respected member of several communities. She taught many people to think, to feel and to question.

The service was beautiful. I have been to a few funerals and I must say, this was the best I’ve ever been to. The emotion was palpable in the room. Not too many dry eyes by the end of it.

I went back to work afterwards. I must say, I didn’t really feel like working. I was just so darn exhausted. Still, life goes on.

I think back to a few other funerals I’ve been to. No one went to my fathers funeral. He was a homeless man who was killed near the location in the park he called home. By the time my brother and I got there, his body had already been cremated. I collected the ashes and spread them over a camellia tree in Sydney where he chose to live.

My grandmother had her church turn up for the service. Well, some of the church. It was nice to see the support they brought to her funeral and it was good that they gave her so much support in her last years. She always said that in her heart she was Russian Orthodox, but here in Australia she joined the Mormon Church for the people. She certainly used them well, and they got their tithe and good deeds in exchange. All in all though, my grand mother did not have many friends in life, and the few she did have, she outlived. Other than family, and we are few at that, no one was there who really knew her.

My friend died a few years ago. He was very young. Pancreatic cancer will do that to you. He had a few work colleagues, a reasonable number of family members and some role players who attended his funeral. All in all, a reasonable crowd. Not many spoke, but those that did had passion.

My role at today’s funeral was to be there for my daughter. She went through the expected range of emotions during the day. It is a good, though sad, experience for her to go through. This wasn’t her first funeral either.

Several times I needed to remind myself that I was there for her, not for others. I did allow myself to reflect on my previous experiences. I also consider my future. At some point, I too will die. When I die, who would I like to have come and recognise my passing? How do I want to be remembered?

I can see that if I were to pass, I would have my family there. I may even manage to coax some of the roleplayers to come. I would probably have a reasonable number of people from some of the clubs I attend come. Perhaps a reasonable turnout, yet how many actually know me?

I was thinking today, looking at the hundreds of attendees, all of who were expressing various emotions, that you can tell a great deal about the affect this lady had on the world by those who came to celebrate her life and say good bye. A stranger who went to the wrong service would know that this woman, this mother, this teacher, this creator, was loved and respected by many.

What will my funeral tell a stranger who came to the wrong service?

What would yours?