Category Archives: Emotional Blockages

It’s A Crazy World: Be Thankful For Engineers! (How They Look at “Global Warming”)

Having been trained in the scientific method, it is both amazing and disheartening to be living in today’s modern era of “fake news.” Important — even critical — issues that affect our society are almost never discussed rationally on the major news outlets. Instead we are subjected to emotionally charged pontifications of politicians, bloggers, and those that call themselves journalists. It is bad enough that the aforementioned generally are incompetent with regard to the use of critical thinking, but compounding the matter immensely is the corruption of many in the science/engineering profession, who, in my opinion, have become all too happy to ignore proper science in return for the perks and privileges bestowed upon them by their masters in the political and governmental classes. But enough generalities, let’s look at “global warming” as a specific example

If one were to unskeptically follow the mainstream news, one would believe that man-made global warming (now often called “climate change”) is an undisputed fact. But let’s look at the issue from an engineering-thinking perspective:

1. Proponents say, “97% of scientists agree” that mankind is responsible for global warming, therefore man-made global warming is a fact.

Even if the 97% figure is true (I’m not sure that it is), the consensus argument is actually proof of ignorance by those who use it, because using consensus to support a position is the logical fallacy known as “argument by authority.”

Science is never determined by a vote of scientists. For example, I’ve never been in a design project meeting where the lead engineer said, “Okay, now let’s take a vote to see which design is correct.” Engineers know that design approaches are based on analysis and testing, not majority votes. One of my favorite true stories on relying on a vote of experts to determine the truth can be found here: “Advice From Professionals: Who Do You Trust? (Part 2)“. (Also see “Global Warming:Consensus Is Not Science.”.)

2. The predictions made by those who believe in man-made global warming have, thus far, been completely wrong; our earth has stubbornly failed to conform to those predictions.

When predicted results do not occur, instead of concluding that the warming hypothesis failed, we see excuses (“our model was a bit faulty”) followed by tweaking of the models. However I have yet to see where the new models are back-tested far enough to actually validate their accuracy; i.e. an accurate model will explain prior climate, as well as recent climate. Experienced engineers, who rely on rigorous analysis and testing, are familiar with the tendency of inexperienced engineers to “tweak and tune” simulation results until the desired result is obtained, regardless of how far the simulation may depart from reality.

Senior engineers may also try to fudge their data to salvage a failed design hypothesis, because engineers are human. That’s why engineers employ a peer review process, to guard against the natural foibles of fellow engineers.

3. There are many respected scientists who disagree with the man-made global warming hypothesis.

These experts offer alternate and reasonable hypotheses, such as the effects of the sun. Indeed, there are some who believe that we are on the cusp on entering a mini ice-age, based on climate correlation to lower solar activity (e.g., “Sun’s activity will cause global cooling“).

On the international stage, however, proponents of global warming try to shut down peer review by qualified dissenters. This is a clear sign that the warmist arguments will not withstand objective scrutiny.

For example, Australian climate expert Dr. David Evans found an error in the climate prediction model used by the warmists (“World will start COOLING DOWN in 2017, claims one of planet’s top climate change experts“), which shows that climate sensitivity to CO2 is small, which negates the “man-made” claim of the warmists.

4. “What can it hurt?” is offered as a reason to implement global warming reduction measures.

This plea is based on the theory that the consequences of warming would be so catastrophic that it is reasonable to have a global big-government effort to reduce CO2. This statement is based on many fallacies; e.g. “appeal to consequences,” “appeal to emotion,” and the “politician’s syllogism” that states “we must do something!” regardless of whether or not that measure will be an overreaction, ineffective, or even make things worse. It is also reflects superstitious and hysterical thinking.

Ironically, some respected scientists have argued that some warming (man-made or natural) is likely good for humanity because maintaining warmer climates helps produce the higher crop yields required for growing populations.


A majority consensus is not a scientific proof. Science will be determined by the facts, as supported by replicable analysis and test. In the meantime, respect should be afforded minority opinions; there are numerous times throughout the history of scientific advancement when a minority (and often ridiculed) opinion has become generally accepted wisdom. Also, scientific conclusions are rarely “settled,” they will be tentative or conditional, based on the best available evidence at the time.

Is man-made global warming occurring? I don’t know. I do know that the warmists have not proven their case, that they tend to use logical fallacies and emotionally-driven statements to promote their position, that their predictions continually fail (followed by model tweak “corrections” that are not validated by back-testing), that they use ridicule and other ad hominem attacks against qualified scientists who disagree with them, and that they also seem to be closely allied to governmental entities that provide them with salaries and perks, which suggests confirmation bias. And if the warmists are wrong, the consequences of imposing a solution for which no problem exists can not only potentially make matters worse, it can also result in gross economic distortions which cost jobs and drain resources that could otherwise be applied to actual problems, such as earth-threatening asteroids, severe damage to the ocean by nanoparticles and other modern pollutants, ebola and other plagues, etc.

Because engineers are applied scientists, they employ critical thinking to successfully create the wondrous things which make our lives comfortable and fun. They are pretty good at keeping emotions at bay, and are adept at evaluating claims in a skeptical yet open-minded manner. Engineers are also willing and able to change their opinions — pro or con — based on a careful evaluation of new claims. This ability to rationally, albeit sometimes imperfectly, evaluate a variety of issues is one of many reasons why I believe that engineers are often the best ones to evaluate the important issues of the day.

-Ed Walker


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A Simple Solution for Businesses Whose Religious Convictions Will Not Allow Them To Serve Gays

melissassweetcakesNote: This post, like a prior one on race (Yes, Race Can Be Discussed Constructively and Civilly), is intended to provide an example of how Engineering Thinking can be used to discuss contentious issues in a good-natured and civil manner.

Engineering Thinking principles tell us that gays are usually gay because they were born that way. A logical analysis supports this. In decades past, gays who were openly gay were risking loss of jobs, loss of societal respect, and in many cases violence. Therefore, it can be argued, with such penalties in force against being gay, why would someone choose to be gay? In addition, studies of animals have found that a small percentage of the members of numerous species engage in homosexual behavior, including same-sex mating.

These factors lead to the strong hypothesis that being gay is simply a natural phenomenon. (If you disagree please provide your logic-based or empirical arguments, and you will receive a respectful and fair hearing, although I reserve the right to question your comments from a science perspective. Also, anti-gay comments solely based on emotion will not be posted.)

But what about those folks whose cultural/religious beliefs prevent them from arriving at this gay-is-okay conclusion? Should they be forced to change their views (e.g. “Christian bakers face $135K fine for refusing to make cake for gay wedding“)? If this is what you think, then you are subscribing to a view that is as unscientific as it is tyrannical.

Although science indicates that being gay is a natural phenomenon, science also says that people who have deep emotional imprints due to long-held cultural beliefs are not going to rapidly change their views, regardless of rapid changes in the general culture. Forcing folks (by penalty of fines or imprisonment) to immediately adopt the latest “politically correct” beliefs (which are often based on junk science) can be just as damaging to society as the maintenance of beliefs that have been shown by science to be invalid.

Here’s the solution: A business that does not wish to serve gays should simply change the business to a members-only club — a private club. Patrons can be charged a modest annual fee to become a member, and membership can be made contingent upon the values held by the club. For example, Melissa’s Sweet Cakes becomes Melissa’s Christian Sweet Cakes (Private Club).

Private clubs can therefore provide a civil intermediate step that allows those with emotionally-ingrained habits to follow their beliefs, until such time as the results of good science — a long-term process — percolate throughout the general culture.

Ed Walker

Related: I Don’t Want To Hear It



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Maureen Dowd, Traitor

No, Maureen Dowd is not a traitor. At least, I have no evidence that she is. However, by applying the non-logic that she splatters wildly about in her column (“The Men In Black,” an attack on the five conservative Supreme Court justices), one could easily draw the conclusion that she is an onion, an aardvark, or a widget. Indeed, conclusions can be anything that you desire, if they are based on emotional invective and ad hominem attacks, rather than research and analysis.

Maureen Dowd’s Rating: Silly; not to be taken seriously.

Also see: “Junk Journalism


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Proud About Your Family Tree? Look Down Into Its Roots And You’ll Find A Worm

Please see “Human origins traced to a worm

Credit: Jean-Bernard Caron/Royal Ontario Museum


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Is Your Significant Other A Sociopath?

The word sociopath has an interesting pedigree. The original (and technically correct) meaning is derived from behavior representative of criminal groups (hence socio); e.g. members of a robbery gang.

Today, however, sociopath in the popular vernacular has come to characterize an individual’s narcissistic, self-centered, amoral behavior. (Counselor Barb informs me that the correct term for this is antisocial personality disorder.)  In any event, this type of person is the subject of this post.

So, is your SO a sociopath? Here are some clues: (bear in mind, we all may exhibit one or more of these characteristics, but rarely, and typically on a bad day):

1. The sociopath is never wrong. Never — ever — wrong.

2. The sociopath, if they appear to be wrong, will:

a. Deny the factual evidence (“That photo is supposedly of me? Nah, anyone can fake a photo.”)

b. Belittle the factual evidence (“So I did it; so what? Everyone does it; who cares?”)

c. Attack the bearer of factual evidence and change the focus to something irrelevant (“Oh, and so you think you’re perfect? You’re lucky I put up with you, after what you did four years ago…)

3. The sociopath does not — at all — understand your (or any other person’s) point of view. They do not know how to look at the world from another perspective because they are not capable of empathy.

4. However, the sociopath knows how to fake empathy and friendliness better than a used car salesman. They can make you pursue them, love them, and want to stay with them despite their almost total self-centeredness and frequent abuse. This is because they are experts at emotional manipulation, easily capable of making you feel as though you are at fault for relationship problems. (Ever wonder why your girlfriend stays with her abusive SO? Now you know.)

5. The sociopath’s skills at false empathy allow them to be very socially adept; they can even be the life of the party. Their mask, however, tends to slip — sometimes revealing extreme rage — when they are criticized or challenged. A sociopath is a prince when you’re  unquestioning and subservient, but Godzilla should you stray from your prescribed role in the relationship.

So, is your SO a sociopath? If so, what do you do? ET says run, as fast as you can. (But you may want to discuss this first with a qualified mental health counselor.)

-Ed Walker



Family Comes First: True or False?

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions! (Part 2)

Engineering Thinking requires that we challenge all assumptions, particularly those that seem to be obviously true. As mentioned before, such challenges may propel us toward conclusions that may, at first glance, seem weird, wacky, or nutty. Nonetheless, we must learn to go where the analysis takes us, so here we go:

In the area of personal relationships, an assumption that is rarely challenged is the one that says, loud and clear, “family comes first.”

Family Comes First: True or False?

The assumption behind “family comes first” is that we have a higher obligation to family members than we do to other folks. This would appear to be reasonable for nuclear parent-child families, where parents have a moral obligation to properly raise their children.

But what about more distant family connections, with cousins, aunts, uncles, and in-laws involved, or cases where the children are grown? Are there any instances where expending the time and effort on family matters may not be morally superior than spending time with others? Here are a few scenarios to ponder:

1. Your only child has grown, who unfortunately has not turned out to be a very pleasant person. You had an evening planned to go out with some rock-solid “non-family” friends you’ve known for twenty years. Your child suddenly drops by with a standard emergency. Should you cancel your outing with your friends?

2. Your family’s gatherings are full of strife, with excessive alcohol, bickering, and tension. Do you feel obligated to attend these family gatherings on every holiday?

3. Like many families, yours has become split by divorce. Do holiday gatherings become an ordeal where some relatives try to use guilt to force you into eliminating or minimizing the time spent with the other side of the family?

If one starts with the premise that true friends — those who appreciate you and consistently treat you with respect — are the definition of true family, you will find clear answers to the questions posed above.

Merry Christmas!

-Ed Walker


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Using Engineering Thinking To Solve Personal Problems

Boldly Go Where Your Mind Has Not Gone Before: Challenge Your Assumptions!

Consider this scenario: You have a close relationship with a fairly rational person, and you have an important personal issue you need to resolve. How to proceed?

In such cases we’ve  learned how different points of view branch from different assumptions (see “Put On Your Emotional Armor“). Therefore, before you even start to discuss the issue with the other party, a way to help improve the odds for agreement is to first review your own position. Dig down to the roots of your beliefs until you reach your baseline assumptions, and then boldly challenge them.


Susan: The issue: Sam never wants to go to the opera, but I always go with him to his ball games. This bugs me.

Susan: My baseline assumption: Fair is fair. If I do something for Sam then he should do something for me.

Challenge: Do you dislike going to the ball games?

Susan: Um, no, they’re kind of fun.

Challenge: Does he insist that you go?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Do you know how much Sam dislikes the opera?

Susan: Um, no. We’ve never discussed it. He just never wants to go. I think he might like it if he went and tried it.

Challenge: Does he object if you go by yourself to the opera?

Susan: Um, no.

Challenge: Are there other activities that you both enjoy doing?

Susan: Yes. We both like hanging out at the beach, and motor biking.

Challenge: Your assumption for fairness seems to be that Sam should do something he doesn’t want to do for you, while you do things for him you like to do. Is your definition of “fair” really fair?

Susan: Well…

ET Observation: Humans spend a lot of time trying to control others, under the guise of “fairness” or “compromise.” Wouldn’t it be better to apply that energy to seeking activities that are mutually agreeable? After all, there is a whole universe of things to do out there, so why become obsessed about those few that one party doesn’t like?

-Ed Walker


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Update: A Summary Of Engineering Thinking Principles

CounselorBarb™ has just advised this engineer that he should have defined the term “normal” that was used in the prior post’s step 3:

“ET Step 3: Challenge Assumptions: Be willing to adjust your views and lower your expectations if you find that your roommate’s behavior is more normal than you think it is.”

Barb points out that the word “normal” may imply judgment regarding behavior. In engineering the term “normal” refers generally to an average condition, with no judgment implied. Since an objective of Engineering Thinking is to remove or reduce emotional influences, Barb’s point is a good one.

It is indeed important to use terms that do not imply guilt/innocence or other pre-judgments of a situation, otherwise a discussion may go off track before it really gets started; e.g. “Fred, I’ve researched your underwear-dropping habit and it’s just not normal.” As opposed to, “Fred, I’ve researched your underwear-dropping habit and it’s not one that’s shared by most of the population.”

-Ed Walker


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ET EXTRA: Protecting Your Relationship: How To Fight Fair

Engineering Thinking Extra Is A Short Review Of A Current Hot Topic

CounselorBarb™ (my wife) has recently posted “How to Fight Fair,” a list of helpful and practical (engineering-thinking-like) ground rules for arguments between couples. As Barb says, “Couples will argue, it’s natural, so now it becomes HOW you argue that is important.”

(The list was developed by Barb after consulting similar lists by Lambos, W.A., & Emener, W.G. (In press): Cognitive and Neuroscientific Aspects of Human Love: A Guide for Therapists and Researchers, Hauppauge, NY, Nova Science, Publisher; and Horton, Lee: Crumbling Commitment: Surviving a Marital Crisis.)

-Ed Walker


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I Don’t Want To Hear It!

In addition to being blind to false assumptions (“Why Can’t We All Just Get Along?”), humans tend to resist having their assumptions challenged. Assumptions can be very comforting, even essential, to a person’s sense of emotional well-being. We often don’t want to discover, or be told, that our cherished assumptions are false.

An important aspect of being objective, therefore, is the willingness to empirically test our conclusions and see how they stack up against reality. In engineering this is generally a straightforward and uncontroversial process: we just take a measurement. When dealing with social issues, however, such as measuring the effectiveness of public schools, this is much more difficult. The difficulty is not in the measurement, which, for example, can easily show that spending more money per pupil does not improve student learning. The difficulty is in getting policymakers to accept such a measurement, because it threatens cherished assumptions that are intertwined with their financial self-interest.

Even in engineering one sometimes runs into this stubborn reluctance to admit than an old practice has become obsolete, or has even been wrong all along. This resistance is more likely to occur in sub-specialties that are harder to measure and quantify, such as quality and reliability, as compared to more specific and concrete specialties such as hardware design. (We’ll look at some interesting examples in a future post.)

In some cases we’re reluctant to challenge our assumptions because of fear. For example, when confronted with a life-threatening disease, many of us blindly put our faith in the hands of our doctors. We want to believe their assurances that radiation and chemotherapy will kill those cancer cells, and we don’t want to question their assurances because the alternative is very unpleasant. Unfortunately, as we will see later, such unquestioned trust may be misguided.

If we are to apply engineering thinking, we must be willing to overcome our reluctance to digging down to the bottom, and be willing to follow our chain of logic to its roots. If the roots are rotten, it will mean that the tree you have constructed in your mind is only an illusion. Or as software programmers say, garbage in equals garbage out.

Emotional Blockages
Protect False Assumptions

As we noted earlier (“Put On Your Emotional Armor”), we may encounter those folks who simply do not have the required emotional armor to discuss issues rationally. A two-way and even-handed discussion, at least on certain touchy topics, will be impossible.

Why are some folks so shackled by irrationality? It could be that they were raised in a family or culture where certain beliefs were conveyed by fierce emotion, and questions and independent thinking were forbidden: This is the way it is, period; my way or the highway. In other cases a person may have experienced an emotional trauma whose impact eclipses rational discussion (“I would have died in that accident if I hadn’t been wearing my lucky rabbit’s foot!”).

As an example of a specific emotional blockage, consider those who are taught at an early age to be compassionate, where compassion is defined by how one feels, rather than how one evaluates. Such folks may have a difficult time putting on their emotional armor when discussing social issues such as the homeless. Are you helping that pitiful-looking homeless person when you hand them a few bucks, or are you just indulging in sentimentality to make yourself feel good, and actually harming that person?

Here are some good clues to spotting those who will not respond well to reasoned arguments:

Signs Of The Rationally Challenged

  1. They get easily irritated if their opinions are questioned
  2. They do not ask you for your opinion
  3. When their argument is not accepted at face value, they repeat it, only louder
  4. They punctuate their points by blustering, scowling, or table thumping
  5. They arrogantly dismiss the merits of your argument and engage in personal attacks (“Ed, what makes an engineer like you think you know anything about economics?”)
  6. They use their professional authority to avoid debating the merits of an issue (“I’m a doctor; what does a housewife like you know about medicine?”)
  7. They cite a single personal experience as incontrovertible proof of their argument
  8. Vague condescending statements are presented as proofs (“as everyone knows…”; “as even an idiot can see…”)
  9. When they realize they are losing their argument to a rational, patient person, they either change the subject or suddenly jump up and walk off

The above guidelines can help tell us whether or not someone with whom we disagree has emotional blockages. In the next post we’ll take this topic an uncomfortable step further, and see if we ourselves have such blockages.

Next Post:

I’m Right! (Or Am I?)

-Ed Walker


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