Episode 53: Sheeplock and Dachson in “A Historical Perspective”

Dachson was touring a historical museum to pass the time while Sherlock was called into some private meetings.  He had worked his way through art and architecture from a variety of ages, stopping longer to study the ancient Greeks.  After that he went into the ancient Egyptian room and let out a bit of a gasp – they had actually built a smaller pyramid to explore.  Intrigued, he rushed in.

While admiring the workmanship that went into cutting each block so precisely and marveling at the manpower it must have taken to move them all he was approached by a guide.  “Do you have any questions?  I can tell you all about the pyramids, their construction, use and even other lesser known facts.”  Dachson’s ears perked up at ‘lesser known facts’. 

“Please, tell me these other facts.” he said.  

“The pyramids, apart from acting as tombs to celebrate the pharaohs, were also designed to keep the bodies fresh for a long time due to their precision engineering and exact positioning.  In fact, even today scientists are only beginning to learn just how much knowledge the Egyptians had.  Additionally, their brilliance allowed them to build the pyramids so that connecting them with lines made sacred shapes, increasing their power greatly.  I’ll bet you didn’t know all that.”

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Dachson’s ears drooped at this and he composed himself before talking.  “I think you should check your facts.  The myth that the pyramids somehow allowed the corpses in them to extend the ‘best if used by date’ has been thoroughly tested and debunked.  I must say, though, some of the pyramids, if connected with lines, do make interesting shapes.  However, this is often coincidental.  We can also connect them in ways that don’t make any useful shapes.  We can often connect any number of objects to make shapes without ancient knowledge used to place them so precisely.  As a museum curator I hope you will stick with known and tested knowledge.  And I don’t want to hear about the aliens.”  With that, Dachson’s museum time was up and he headed out to meet Sheeplock.

Dachson encountered several fallacies today.  First up is one called Appeal to Antiquity and it was when the guide talked about the precision engineering and construction techniques of the pyramid builders that slowed down decomposition and that this was lost to modern man.  You hear this as “wisdom of the ancients” or it’s an old and time-tested practice.  Another give away is that statement “modern science is just beginning to learn what the ancients always knew”.  In a nutshell, this fallacy is when something is accepted as true simply because it’s old or has been done for a long time.  Think for a minute, modern science gives us air travel, super computers in our pockets, multiple rover landings on Mars, amazing medicine and more but somehow, they all missed pyramid power.  Seems a little improbable, doesn’t it?

The second fallacy Dachson saw was Confirmation Bias and this occurred when the guide talked about connecting the pyramids with lines which revealed shapes.  The tricky part about confirmation bias is that often what you see is correct – connecting 3 pyramids does make a perfect triangle in some situations.  The catch is that you can connect 3 others that don’t make a perfect triangle and you throw that data out or it doesn’t register because it’s not interesting enough.  When it comes to connecting things with lines, there are often so many permutations that you are guaranteed to find a number of shapes.  I’ll bet if you connect different Walmart sites you’ll find something interesting – since there are so many.

When dealing with confirmation bias, we only pay attention to or remember those things that reinforce our belief.  This is something we actually have to work against and challenge ourselves on.  As an example, I’ll bet you can recall every time you were in a hurry to drive somewhere and encountered a slower car you couldn’t pass.  You probably started thinking those cars showed up because you were in a hurry.  Now, can you recall a time you were in a hurry and didn’t meet slower traffic?  It probably happened, maybe a lot, but since it doesn’t reinforce your belief it’s dropped.  We all do this and it takes practice to learn to stop, or at least lessen, this type of thinking.

Now you’ve learned about Appeal to Antiquity and Confirmation Bias.  Hopefully you can begin to spot them as you go about your day and keep yourself from using either of them.  Confirmation Bias is certainly the more difficult of the two to stop.  Fortunately, you don’t have to stop, but just recognize and correct.  It’s our path to becoming better critical thinkers. 

When Sheeplock met Dachson he asked how the museum visit went.  Dachson replied, “It was a very educational trip, but more for them than for me, I’m afraid.”