Why can’t we stop Believing?

Science of the Mind — POSTED BY Adam Gyngell on July 6, 2010 at 11:27 am

Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills. He explains what they are, and how they get us into trouble.

As founder and publisher of Skeptic Magazine, Michael Shermer has exposed fallacies behind intelligent design, 9/11 conspiracies, the low-carb craze, alien sightings and other popular beliefs and paranoias. But it’s not about debunking for debunking’s sake. Shermer defends the notion that we can understand our world better only by matching good theory with good science. Thus, in order to explore a conspiracy theory that pre-planted explosives caused the World Trade Center towers to fall on 9/11, the magazine called on demolition experts.

Shermer’s work offers cognitive context for our often misguided beliefs: In the absence of sound science, incomplete information can powerfully combine with the power of suggestion (helping us hear Satanic lyrics when “Stairway to Heaven” plays backwards, for example). In fact, a common thread that runs through beliefs of all sorts, he says, is our tendency to convince ourselves: We overvalue the shreds of evidence that support our preferred outcome, and ignore the facts we aren’t looking for.

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    1 Comment

  • David Luke says:

    Wow, Shermer, ‘still’ thinks we are robots… we have “hard wired” survival skills and a belief “engine” in our brains.. this is soooo eighties… As for thinking superstition is like the opportunistic feeding dance of pigeons, this long ago completely failed to have any viable translation to what human superstition is actually like… most of which is socially inherited not operantly conditioned!.. I gave up watching at this point.

    I am pleased, though, that Shermer has offered himself up as the ultimate example of the (highlighted for emphasis) observation that “we overvalue the shreds of evidence that support our preferred outcome, and ignore the facts we aren’t looking for.”

    I’m so glad irony never died when skeptics started laying claim to ultimate reality.

    Am I the only dysfunctional ‘meat computer’ out here, or is Shermer just peddling the usual (outdated reductionist) nonsense? I see no good science here, just dogma dressed up in a badly fitting lab coat.

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