Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Crackpot Index and Social Cognition

The Crackpot Index
John Baez
A simple method for rating potentially revolutionary contributions to physics:
1. A -5 point starting credit.
2. 1 point for every statement that is widely agreed on to be false.
3. 2 points for every statement that is clearly vacuous.
4. 3 points for every statement that is logically inconsistent.
5. 5 points for each such statement that is adhered to despite careful correction.
6. 5 points for using a thought experiment that contradicts the results of a widely accepted real experiment.
7. 5 points for each word in all capital letters (except for those with defective keyboards).
8. 5 points for each mention of "Einstien", "Hawkins" or "Feynmann".
9. 10 points for each claim that quantum mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
10. 10 points for pointing out that you have gone to school, as if this were evidence of sanity.
11. 10 points for beginning the description of your theory by saying how long you have been working on it. (10 more for emphasizing that you worked on your own.)
12. 10 points for mailing your theory to someone you don't know personally and asking them not to tell anyone else about it, for fear that your ideas will be stolen.
13. 10 points for offering prize money to anyone who proves and/or finds any flaws in your theory.
14. 10 points for each new term you invent and use without properly defining it.
15. 10 points for each statement along the lines of "I'm not good at math, but my theory is conceptually right, so all I need is for someone to express it in terms of equations".
16. 10 points for arguing that a current well-established theory is "only a theory", as if this were somehow a point against it.
17. 10 points for arguing that while a current well-established theory predicts phenomena correctly, it doesn't explain "why" they occur, or fails to provide a "mechanism".
18. 10 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Einstein, or claim that special or general relativity are fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
19. 10 points for claiming that your work is on the cutting edge of a "paradigm shift".
20. 20 points for emailing me and complaining about the crackpot index. (E.g., saying that it "suppresses original thinkers" or saying that I misspelled "Einstein" in item 8.)
21. 20 points for suggesting that you deserve a Nobel prize.
22. 20 points for each favorable comparison of yourself to Newton or claim that classical mechanics is fundamentally misguided (without good evidence).
23. 20 points for every use of science fiction works or myths as if they were fact.
24. 20 points for defending yourself by bringing up (real or imagined) ridicule accorded to your past theories.
25. 20 points for naming something after yourself. (E.g., talking about the "The Evans Field Equation" when your name happens to be Evans.)
26. 20 points for talking about how great your theory is, but never actually explaining it.
27. 20 points for each use of the phrase "hidebound reactionary".
28. 20 points for each use of the phrase "self-appointed defender of the orthodoxy".
29. 30 points for suggesting that a famous figure secretly disbelieved in a theory which he or she publicly supported. (E.g., that Feynman was a closet opponent of special relativity, as deduced by reading between the lines in his freshman physics textbooks.)
30. 30 points for suggesting that Einstein, in his later years, was groping his way towards the ideas you now advocate.
31. 30 points for claiming that your theories were developed by an extraterrestrial civilization (without good evidence).
32. 30 points for allusions to a delay in your work while you spent time in an asylum, or references to the psychiatrist who tried to talk you out of your theory.
33. 40 points for comparing those who argue against your ideas to Nazis, stormtroopers, or brownshirts.
34. 40 points for claiming that the "scientific establishment" is engaged in a "conspiracy" to prevent your work from gaining its well-deserved fame, or suchlike.
35. 40 points for comparing yourself to Galileo, suggesting that a modern-day Inquisition is hard at work on your case, and so on.
36. 40 points for claiming that when your theory is finally appreciated, present-day science will be seen for the sham it truly is. (30 more points for fantasizing about show trials in which scientists who mocked your theories will be forced to recant.)
37. 50 points for claiming you have a revolutionary theory but giving no concrete testable predictions.
Baez, J. (n.d.). The Crackpot Index. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from

The Crackpot Index lists down 37 pointers that identifies someone as a “crackpot”, (Baez) it falls neatly into the role schemas as it is “organised knowledge about the expected behaviours of occupants of particular social positions” (Howard, 1995) where in this case it is academic positions. The term crackpot is used as a stereotype as it is clear from the ironic description of “potentially revolutionary contributions to physics” (Baez). It is meant to ridicule and to create laugher from the ironic treatment of the crackpots. “Role schemas are basis for stereotyping” (Howard, 1995).
Other than that, there is on point 8, “each mention of 'Einstien', 'Hawkins' or 'Feynmann'” (Baez) suggested that anyone who encourages the readers to use availability and representative heuristics can be considered crackpots. Availability heuristics happens when the public gets recent news about Hawking’s genius, and representative heuristics is obvious from the collections of geniuses in the list. It is quite appropriate as the heuristics are “mental shortcuts” (Howard, 1995) and in Physics, one is supposed to be able to derive from scratch the whole theory without relying on heuristics. Therefore one who overuses heuristics is suspicious in the eyes of Physicists. Someone who relies too much on others while presenting their own theory is most likely one who is out to find fame instead of finding the truth.
Point 21 and 34 can be explained by attribution theory where self serving bias is doing its work. When praising one's work, one says that one deserves a Noble Prize and when work fame does not go well, one blames a conspiracy blocking the work (instead of the work is wrong). This is also the fundalmental attribution error and whoever displays such error openly can be easily dismissed as “crackpots”.
Point 9, 18, 22, shows a base rate fallacy happening to the “crackpot”. Ignoring the many experimental evidences for Quantum Mechanics, General Relativity, and Classical Mechanics (Baez), the “crackpot” thinks the theories are wrong because physicists are struggling to unite them and yet still unsuccessful therefore the “crackpots” think that the base theories are wrong. The failure to take the numerous times when the base theories are correct and to refute them all just because of one difficulty is a base rate fallacy.
All in all, the crackpot index displays a lot of theories and skills from social cognition and is able to be studied by the concepts in social cognition. What we found out is that the crackpots are not only bad in physics but also bad in social cognitions skills. So bad are their theories that they resort to the various baises and heuristics to convince the readers of their theories instead of scientific rigour.
Baez, J. (n.d.). The Crackpot Index. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from
Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Conceptions of Self and Identity. In Fifty Years of Personality Psychology (pp. 177-186). New York: Plenum Press.
Howard, J. A. (1995). Social Cognition. In Sociological Perspectives on Social Psychology (pp. 90-117). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

Comparison of the 5 Aggregates with Conceptions of Self and Identity by Baumeister Buddhism Skandha
The Sanskrit word skandha means "heap" or "aggregate." The Buddha taught that an individual is a combination of five aggregates of existence, called the Five Skandhas. These are:

1. Form
2. Sensation
3. Perception
4. Mental formations
5. Consciousness
Various schools of Buddhism do not interpret the skandhas in exactly the same way. Generally, the first skandha is our physical form. The second is made up of our feelings, emotional and physical, and our senses -- seeing, hearing, tasting, touching, smelling.

The third skandha, perception, takes in most of what we call thinking -- conceptualization, cognition, reasoning. This also includes the recognition that occurs when an organ comes into contact with an object. Perception can be thought of as "that which identifies." The object perceived may be a physical object or a mental one, such as an idea.

The fourth skandha, mental formations, includes habits, prejudices and predispositions. Our volition, or willfulness, also is part of the fourth skandha, as are attention, faith, conscientiousness, pride, desire, vindictiveness, and many other mental states both virtuous and not virtuous. The causes and effects of karma are especially important to the fourth skandha.

The fifth skandha, consciousness, is awareness of or sensitivity to an object, but without conceptualization. Once there is awareness, the third skandha might recognize the object and assign a concept-value to it, and the fourth skandha might react with desire or revulsion or some other mental formation. The fifth skandha is explained in some schools as base that ties the experience of life together.

The Buddha taught that our egos, personalities and the sense that the "self" is something distinctive and permanent enclosed within our bodies, are just illusory effects of the skandhas.


O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

TThe article Skandha strongly parallels the Baumeister’s Taxonomy of the Self.
The Form, Sensation and Consciousness can be classified as the Natural Self. The definition of the Natural self in Conceptions of Self and Identity by Baumeister includes “the body”, “the little window of consciousness called the 'knower' ” and “sensations” (Baumeister, 1993). This definition includes and embodies what Buddhism defines as the form as the physical body, the Sensations or feelings and the consciousness as the awareness factor, which is the called the 'knower' (O'Brien).
This is re-enforced by the description of consciousness in Buddhism as the basis for perceptions and mental formations to arise. Parallel to this is the use of the term universal (Baumeister, 1993) to describe the Natural self by Baumeister. One point to note here is that Baumeister integrates sensations into consciousness and consciousness with body inside the Natural Self, whereas Buddhism reclassifies them into three. Despite the differences in numbering, they both agree on the Universal self, which is natural, and supports the notion that the Natural Self is indeed universal.
For Perception, the definition from Buddhism is “that which identifies”. It is the one doing the “conceptualization, cognition” (O'Brien). This is clearly the Conceptual Self from Baumeister which is the self as a construct. The difference here is that Buddhism attributes Perception as one of the 5 aggregates of the thing we call self whereas Baumeister seems to take it for granted and is more interested in the construct itself, namely the “self concept” and “identity” (Baumeister, 1993). In Buddhism, we see that the concept of Perception is a superset of Baumeister's Conceptual self, one is the creator, and the other is the creation.
Mental formations in Buddhism refer to the identity in the conceptual self and also the action self. “Habits, prejudice and predispositions” (O'Brien) of mental formations are most likely seen by Baumeister as “structure of values and priorities” (Baumeister, 1993) in the identity of the conceptual self. Whereas the “volition and willfulness” (O'Brien) of mental formations is the “actor and the wanter” (Baumeister, 1993) in the action self. Thus it is seen that Buddhism regards mental formations as the rest of the mind other than the sensations, perception and consciousness. Thus it is not so surprising that we find the identity in mental formations along with the action self. The separations of self concept and identity in the classification by Buddhism seems to imply that the self concept is just a construct that can change with time and with person and also possibly not necessary, so it is not explicitly stated, just the function that constructs, namely perception is named, whereas Buddhism would regard identity, or the habits and prejudice more solid and empirical than self concept.
As the two articles contains very similar parts of the self that both using different classification managed to compartmentalise them, it is worth noting that the Buddha can be considered as a superb Psychologist whose findings 2500 years ago are being rediscovered by modern psychology in the last 100 years.


Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Conceptions of Self and Identity. In Fifty Years of Personality Psychology (pp. 177-186). New York: Plenum Press.

O'Brien, B. (n.d.). Skandha. Retrieved September 16, 2010, from Buddhism:

Monday, September 06, 2010

Hawking, God, Physics and Religion

In reference to the above link and news, (please click and read first before reading this post) I wish to response to it for the interchanging use of the term "God" and "Religion".

I better define what I mean by "God" and "Religion" then.

"God" is the supreme being, the creator of the Universe, the all good/all knowing/ all powerful entity.

"Religion" is a collection of teachings that teaches humans to do good, avoid evil.

The intersection of "Religion" and "God" is very big, as in most of the religions, the teachings comes from God. But it is not complete, nor is it not separable. (For one example of a religion without God, see Buddhism.)

In Physics, whatever opinion anyone had said of anything. It is still subject to revision and verification. Even if Physics doesn't need a "God" to start the Big Bang, it doesn't mean that humans don't need religion.

"In this most recent saga, religious figures are taking it personally, saying physicists can't disprove the existence of God, so this is a non-debate. He's even being accused of having an Atheist agenda. But primarily, Hawking is being interpreted as vocalizing the point that religion has no place in a scientific field."

In the quote above (from the link), it seems to imply that the religious figure had integrated their teachings with the concept of God and the refutation of the God concept refutes the teachings of religions for humans to do good. However, what Physicists are saying is just that Physics can be fully pure, without any space left (in terms of creation) for God.

It doesn't mean that there's no space for God to spread good and love in the world through religion.

In fact the world today faces many mental problems, including but not limited to the elusive self, that is too many options for the individual to become (having no direction in life), materialistic, being afraid of dying (by simply ignoring the fact that we all die one day). All these problems are handled very well via religion. And psychology is still trying to catch up.

So all in all, whatever Physics decides to do with God, it doesn't reduce the importance, the esteem and the role of religion in our current society. Let that be known to all.