Mind Prisons are suffocating models that blind us, confining us to a single, often inaccurate perception of reality. A Mind Prison prevents us from understanding even though a situation fits patterns we already know well. Mind Prisons cue our thinking to distort what we think of the facts and not be open to recognizing more appropriate mental models.
Mind Prisms refract information that we receive by breaking it down so that we can understand it and see how it fits in with what we already know. They present models that allow us to appreciate the complexity, diversity and nuance of our world. Mind Prisms cue our brains to think expansively and organically.
Denierism1 depends on Mind Prisons. Denier memes lock our thinking into limited, false understandings that prevent us from comprehending. They pretend to inform, but actually encourage, even demand a single, simplistic view that excludes reality.
In the past I have talked about one such Mind Prison, the Denier meme that climate should warm in a steady progression that when charted would look like a ramp. In this model each and every year is hotter than the year before. The conceptual metaphor here might be that of an oven warming up.
In earlier posts I suggested that a more appropriate model might be that of a set of stairs or of the changing seasons. No one expects autumn to be a steady progression of each day being colder until we reach the coldest day of the year, nor for spring to be a constant warming with each day being warmer until until the hottest day of the year. In Spring we realize that any given day or week may be warmer or colder, but that over the weeks and months things get progressively warmer. And of course the reverse is true for Autumn.
We all know this, it part of our every day experience, it is how we know natural systems to be. So why would we expect climate over years to behave differently from weather over days and weeks?
We may or may not, but once someone leads us into a Mind Prison by cuing a particular mental model such as “See, this year is colder, therefore climate change is not happening” our thinking tends to become constrained along those lines and the conclusion seems reasonable, even inescapable.
In this post I wish to talk about a couple of common Denier memes that are actually Mind Prisons, specifically:
- historically CO2 lags warming, therefore CO2 is not the cause of warming
- the climate has changed in the past therefore humans do not cause climate change
Both denier Memes also depend on Straw Man fallacies; that is that they claim that climate scientists or climate science says X, when in fact climate scientists say no such thing and never did.
In this case the false claims are that climate science says that:
- Only humans cause climate change
- Only humans cause increased CO2 and/or other greenhouse gas levels
- Only increased CO2 levels initiate warming
Of course these are obviously false and they would be incredibly stupid things to say, which is why climate scientists have never said any of it. Let’s leave that aside for the moment though, and look at it from the perspective of Mind Prisons and Prisms.
The first Mind Prison is that ‘one effect has only one cause’. This is implicit in the “there has always been climate change therefore humans aren’t causing it” meme. You are supposed to conclude that whatever caused climate change in the past must be causing it now.
Of course the Deniers are very careful not to mention that different periods of historic climate change had different causes. Admitting that would break the Mind Prison, so it is left out. Once that is admitted you might wonder how many different things could cause climate change, and if maybe humans could too.
What if instead of strict mechanical “effect” we think of the earth as a natural system like the human body, and climate change as a fever. Can more than one thing cause a fever? Of course it can. Any effect may have different causes, but it is not how we think about it once we start on the linear, mechanical mental model.
The CO2 lag meme is a variation on this. The Deniers point out that in many cases of historic climate change the increased levels of CO2 come after the climate starts to warm. Warming leads to CO2 increases. Something caused warming and warming led to higher CO2.
Therefor CO2 cannot cause warming because if A causes B which then causes C, C cannot cause B.
Sounds reasonable? logical? even inescapable. Let’s look at some every day examples:
Every day examples:
- Reality:You start your car with a starter motor A powered by electric charge B from the battery which starts the engine C. The engine C running then charges up the battery B. A caused B causing C, and then C caused (recharged) B.
- Denier Analysis: Since the battery charge B powered the engine C, the engine C cannot recharge the battery B.
- Reality: Forest or grass fires can be caused by humans or natural causes. In nature fires can be started by lightening strikes, volcanic activity, or even meteors. Any one of these can be the thing that starts the fire, but once the fire starts it does not require more of the initial cause to keep the fire going. The fire will burn until it runs out of combustible fuel to burn. Lightening A caused burning B which caused intense heat C, then intense heat C causes more burning B.
- Denier Analysis: Intense heat C comes after burning trees and flames B caused by A. There is a lag, therefore intense heat C does not drive forest fires B.
- Reality: If a dam develops a leak for whatever reason the flow of water will erode the dam material and enlarge the hole. As more water flows the rate of erosion will increase and the size of the breach will grow. Whatever caused the initial hole is not required to make the hole bigger. This positive feedback will continue until the water level behind the dam drops to the level of the breach.
- Denier Analysis: Water flow did not start the breach. There is a lag, therefore water flowing through a hole in a dam does not affect the dam.
- Reality: When we are exhausted and lacking sleep we are more prone to sickness. If we get sick, say with a flu and severe cough, we usually become even more exhausted and weak. Exhaustion may have caused the sickness, but then the illness causes more exhaustion.
- Denier Analysis: You get the idea…
The point is that we all understand that even though one thing may cause a condition or event, it is possible, even common for that condition to continue, even make itself bigger on it’s own. This is everyday experience when we think of it with the right Prism.
And now CO2
Historically a warming might be triggered by things like a huge meteor strike or unusual extremes of solar activity. The warming, if long enough, causes some of the CO2 and methane stored in huge “sinks” to start to be released. Sinks include the ice caps, permafrost, deep ocean methane clathrates, the soil, plant matter, etc.
The mechanism of releases include simple melting of ice, permafrost and clathrates, massive fires burning the forests and prairies killed by the droughts of the warmer earth, and increased microbial activity in the now warmer soil.
There are other positive feedback mechanisms such as albedo. For a good primer on “tipping points” I recommend Leo Murray’s animated “Wake Up, Freak Out – then Get a Grip.” Even if you already understand tipping points well you will still enjoy it. It includes other useful mental models to help people understand the concept.
Historically it was extreme solar variation or some other event that began the release of CO2, but once the release began it was sufficient to continue to drive the warming because of course CO2 is a greenhouse gas and it does drive warming. Here’s what some of the good Denier Debunking sites have to say about the CO2 lag.
In the comments Tamino points out that ” temperature increase would precede CO2 increase during deglaciations was actually predicted by Claude Lorius, James Hansen, and others before it was confirmed in analysis of ice core data.” and Brian D. has kindly provided the link for the Lorius et al paper. I think we can safely say that when the science predicted it, it doesn’t demonstrate that the science is wrong.
This time we are the trigger that has started the warming. Our peril is that we may not be able to stop it. We are very close to the edge.
The recent MIT/Methane Fraud was an example of how effective Mental Prisons can be.The reality is that MIT scientists have detected increases in natural methane release, probably triggered by human caused climate change and exactly as climate science expected would happen.
The fraud created a Mind Prison where there were only 2 theories were possible, human released greenhouse gases vs natural greenhouse gases. In the Prison, if there was evidence of the natural release of greenhouse gases then anthropogenic climate change must be false. It follows logically, no?
The fraud depended on the Straw Man of a “Human Produced Methane Theory” that never existed. But Mind Prisons are powerful and the fraud even took in the generally more reliable Accuweather. This despite the fact that they have done stories on tipping points and methane in the past, some of them quite recent.
To their credit Accuweather corrected the story as soon as it was brought to their attention, something you will not see the Denier sites do.
- humans are not the only possible causes/triggers of climate change, but we are definitely one of them;
- climate has changed in the past, which is irrelevant to explaining the cause now;
- increased CO2 and other greenhouse can both cause and result from increased temperature;
- Denierism requires Mind Prisons to trap your thinking.
Ask rather “is how I am being told to think about this reasonable and sensible? Is the mental model appropriate? reasonable? rational? Is it a Mind Prism or a Prison?” That is the far more important question.
Mind Prisons and Prisms
Mind Prisons and Prisms are simultaneously descriptive of subsets of Lakoff’s “conceptual metaphors” or “frames” as well as being conceptual metaphors in and of themselves. I made them up and as far as I can tell they are neologisms, so I get to use them however I want cf Humpty Dumpty.
For those interested in how messages are framed and decoded I highly recommend Deceiving Images, a panel discussion around the themes of “There You Go Again: Orwell Comes to America.”
Assuming ‘Mind Prisons and Prisms’ is a useful approach to looking at Denierism vs Reality it is going to be a regular theme here at Greenfyre.
And Prisons are not always necessarily a bad thing. One of mine is that “there must be evidence, it must be verified.” That may not always be true, but to date it has helped me more than it has harmed.
Look at that! The “Possibly related posts: (automatically generated)” that appears below has provided us with a link to some other blog “CO2 is a result not the cause !” A test case for checking out the meme.
Denier “Challenge” aka Deathwatch Update: Day 36 … still no evidence.
1As I discuss here I do not use the term “Denier” to refer to all climate change doubters. Those who thoughtfully and intelligently address the facts I call ’skeptics’.
Those who irrationally deny the existence of the science and instead propagate the lies and distortions such as those discussed above and linked to the right under “Debunking Denier Nonsense” are “Deniers”.
The choice of the correct term is based on their actions, not their conclusions.