Just you wait until I tell you about time. Once it clicks, you listen to people babbling on about stuff like time travel, and it gets kinda scarey.
Here's something you guys ought to find interesting. It's an essay I wrote a couple of years back when I first twigged that conviction isn't just a religion thing. People have this nasty habit of believing in things for which there is no evidence at all, and that includes people who take pride in their rationality. I wasn't kidding when I said I'm the super skeptic. Enjoy.
THE PSYCHOLOGY OF BELIEF
When I analysed my basic concepts, I found things that werenít real, that donít exist, that we never actually see. But we assume theyíre real, we take them for granted, and we believe in them. Because we have holes in our understanding, holes that weíve all grown up with. Weíve lived with them for so long that we donít know theyíre there. We cover them up with ignorance of our ignorance, with blindness of our blind spot, and we shield ourselves with a peer pressure that persuades us there are no alternatives to consider. We do it because we are social animals, we follow the herd, we're prey to groupthink. Thatís the way we are. So much so, that we even place our faith in negative carpets.
Whatís a negative carpet? Well, letís say that the wife is so impressed with the new lounge carpet, that she now wants a new carpet for the baby's bedroom. The room is square, and we need sixteen square metres. Whatís the square root of sixteen? There are two solutions, four and minus four. So wise guy that I am, I opt for the latter solution, and get down on my hands and knees to cut a big fat square out of our brand new living room carpet. I roll it up, put it over my shoulder, and take it to the carpet shop, walking backwards for dramatic effect. I hand it over to the proprietor and pay him a minus ten pound note, which I stick in my pocket, then go back home to crack open a bottle of wine and greet my guests. We're standing in the living room talking about my negative carpet and discussing its negative mass when the wife walks in. She stands there open-mouthed for a heartbeat or two as I begin to explain the merely technical details of relocation to the babyís bedroom. Then all hell breaks loose.
The thing about all this, is that a solution is sometimes crazy, but it's not always plain. People just don't spot it. So we talk about it quite seriously without examining whether itís a real solution. We end up taking it for granted and using it to search for further solutions. Then when we struggle, we forget to track back to the beginning and look at the things we took for granted. We donít realise weíre riding a negative carpet to never-never land, and thatís why weíre getting nowhere. What it all boils down to, is that a negative carpet doesnít exist. It isnít real. Itís just a figment of our imagination, an abstraction, a belief. And beliefs can cause all sorts of problems. Some people believe in Santa Claus, and some people believe in fairies, despite that fact that there is absolutely no material evidence to support the existence of these things. We smile at the gullibility that foolish people show, but we forget that we too believe in things for which there is no material evidence. Things like time travel, unseen dimensions, and parallel worlds.
Weíve all got our beliefs. Thatís the way we are. Iíve got them, and so do you. It was Feynman who said ďThe first principle is that you must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to foolĒ. This is more true than you realise. Itís true because when youíve fooled yourself, you donít know it. You convince yourself that you havenít fooled yourself, and you develop a conviction, a faith, a belief about it. You'll be quite irrational in defence of this belief. You won't test your belief in an empirical scientific fashion. Instead, when challenged, you'll become defensive or incredulous. If you donít behave this way, thatís fine, youíre not a believer. You merely have an opinion, and an open mind. But let me demonstrate something: You donít have an open mind. Youíre fooling yourself. At which point I imagine you're bristling already. See how it works? If you really believe something and I challenge it, it's all too easy to construe the challenge as an insult, and then become hostile and unreasonable. That's human nature. Everybody likes to think they have an open mind, and very few understand that about some things at least, they don't. The truth is this: youíre not quite as open minded or as rational as you think. This is hard to accept, but thatís the way it is. Itís like that because if you believe something, you donít need to think about it. Because you already know the answer. Hence you're less receptive than you should be. And so you donít look at the out-of-the-box solutions that solve the problems that have troubled you all your life.
Stop a minute and think about it. Why do you think we have suicide bombers? What on Earth possesses them to think that thereís seventy two virgins waiting for them in paradise? What possesses them is something called The Psychology of Belief. And they donít think, thatís just it. This thing is far more powerful and far more prevalent than you know. Thereís a whole spectrum of belief out there. Think about Young Earth Creationists and their Intelligent Design friends. You can talk to these people until youíre blue in the face, but they're totally immune to logic because they believe that they're right. You can say anything and everything, but they duck and dive and dismiss every last scrap of evidence you throw at them. Everything you say goes whoosh, in one ear and out the other. They just arenít listening. They just arenít thinking. The weird thing is that they donít know theyíre immune to logic. These guys arenít lying to you. They donít have a rational open mind, but they donít know it. They think theyíre being perfectly rational, and youíre just some crazy fool who just doesnít know.
It doesnít stop at religion. Thereís ideology, Kafkaesque bureaucracy, and dynastic communism, all the sorts of things that can end up with starvation, murder, and Nazi death camps. Thereís racism, tribalism, and insane conspiracy theories, all leading to enmity and hate and violence. There's heroin, crack, and alcohol addiction where people die before their time. Moving down the scale there's anorexia and obesity, and the dieting that makes you fat as your body sets store for a rainy day. Then thereís gentler symptoms like fashion, where folk let themselves be brainwashed into thinking purple is the new black. Or swaggering around with some eco cotton bag containing the keys for the 4x4 and the plane tickets. It affects everybody to some degree, even people who consider themselves to be utterly rational and totally open minded. Everybodyís got some kind of belief about something. When you find it and hit it, whoosh, everything you say goes in one ear and out the other. They just donít listen. They just donít think. Itís like the shutters are down and thereís nobody home.
Would you like to put yourself to the test? This will show you what I mean. This will demonstrate that you're not immune to The Psychology of Belief. Nobody is, not even me. Take a look at the picture below:
OK, hereís the deal: squares A and B are the same colour. Theyíre the same shade of grey. Oh no theyíre not, I hear you say. Oh yes they are I insist. Oh no theyíre not, you answer back. We could do this all day, but Iím afraid I'm right and youíre wrong. They really are the same colour. Squares A and B are the same shade of grey. The apparent difference in colour is the illusion. Let me prove it. It's very simple: just look at it from a narrow angle. Another method is look through a small hole to remove the context that fooled you into fooling yourself. You can even download the image and check it out with photoshop. Satisfy yourself. Be empirical, test yourself, find a way to stop fooling yourself. Then you realise that A and B really are the same colour.
Donít be surprised. I told you The Psychology of Belief is powerful. More powerful than you ever dreamed. Whatís surprising is just how common it is, even amongst scientists. If you donít believe me, you should look up paradigm on Wikipedia, and read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions by Thomas Kuhn. Conviction is a hard nut to crack, and it applies to scientists too. Itís the way we are, the way we think. Why do you think Bruno got burned at the stake? Why do you think it took Einstein seventeen years to get a Nobel Prize for the wrong thing? And why do you think thereís that saying: catch Ďem young? Itís because there are people out there who are quite fully aware that if you instil children with a belief theyíll carry on believing it come heaven or high water. These children remain so utterly convinced, that they grow up to become adults who will fight and die for it. But weíre not going to fight and die for something like The Capacity To Do Work are we? Because we are rational, we have an open mind, and we listen and we think.
Yes, The Capacity To Do Work. Einstein said you don't really understand something unless you can explain it to your grandmother. Can you explain energy to your grandmother? You might believe you can, but the chances are youíre fooling yourself, and your explanation is no explanation at all. Your grandmother will peer at you over her bifocals, suck on her false teeth, say Thank you Dear, and then sheíll carry on with her knitting. Sheís too polite to say it, because butter wouldnít melt in her mouth. But what she really meant is: Capacity To Do Work my arse.
Come on now, The Capacity To Do Work is no explanation at all. You swallowed that when you were young and gullible, and you havenít looked at it since. Energy is a simple basic concept that you really ought to understand, but you donít. And you donít know that you donít. Because Donald Rumsfeld was right. And what you also donít know, is that The Capacity To Do Work is merely a label that covers up a hole in your understanding. A hole that youíve grown up with, thatís been there so long itís like a blind spot, all grown over with such thick skin that you donít even know itís there any more.
Iíll show you the holes in your understanding. Iíll peel back those labels and fill the holes with concepts that are crystal clear. Then you can stop fooling yourself. But remember this, itís important: the basic concepts I will give you are better than the concepts you hold now. But donít ever think theyíre perfect. Donít fool yourself that youíve stopped fooling yourself. Keep that open mind open.
Just you wait until I tell you about time. Once it clicks, you listen to people babbling on about stuff like time travel, and it gets kinda scarey.
Farsight - you do realise that there are several psychologists on here don't you?
Whilst there are some errors in your essay, I don't think too many skeptics would disagree with the basic thesis.
But it does invite the question: If someone makes a claim, how can you differentiate between a 'belief' and knowledge?
In other words, if you reach a conclusion on an issue that is alternative to that which is currently scientifically accepted, how do you know that you are right and everyone else is wrong?
Talking of which, see http://physicsworld.com/cws/article/print/38468 for an interesting article. And if I might offer a sly piece of humour: it sometimes seems that those people who are convinced that they're white swans are also convinced that I'm the ugly duckling.
this forum where I was looking for some help from psychologists. I ended up wondering if there's some link between conviction and hypnosis. We had a hypnotist at a work Christmas do a few years back. He started by asking for about a dozen volunteers, and had us all lined up pressing our hands together, seeking out those who were susceptible. Later in the show one of the guys I played 5-a-side with would jump up on cue to wash the "window" at the front of the stage. Weird stuff. If I hadn't seen it myself done to people I knew, I wouldn't have believed it.
here. So, this point, just like the 'negative carpet', does not actually illustrate your point.
Incidentally, all that stuff you say about the psychology of belief, paradigms and so is very old. Do you have any new take on it because, otherwise, I think you may be 'preaching to the converted'.
Last edited by Mulder; 6th September 2009 at 05:35 PM.
I think you're making a big fallacy of equivocation when using the term 'belief'. Belief in fairies and belief in the laws of physics are not isomorphic. So by saying something like 'some people believe in things like fairies and you can't shift those beliefs' it's not the same as saying something like 'some people accept the findings of physics and are reluctant to change'.
Beliefs can be: true and justified; false and justified; true and unjustified; and, false and unjustified. So your argument may sound superficially fine but you're really swapping between the alternative meanings of 'belief'.
Also, I don't like the negative carpet analogy either as it doesn't really have a structural equivalent in the real world - because it doesn't make sense in the first place.
I followed your link and saw this opening sentence:
Humans can see into the future, says a cognitive scientist. It's nothing like the alleged predictive powers of Nostradamus, but we do get a glimpse of events one-tenth of a second before they occur.
This is misleading. Yes one can advance an argument that we project what we think we will see, but we don't actually see into the future. I note on that web page there's a link to time travel:
Now watch my lips: time travel is bunk. It demands negative energy. And just like that negative carpet, it doesn't exist.
Perhaps you could do some reading on optical illusions and get back to us with your findings.
Or do you just know you're right?
Only, to me, it looks like you're displaying the very characteristics you're highlighting in your article!
There is an essential creative side to science. Einstein, a favourite of yours, is said to have thought of relativity by imagining what it would be like to ride on light.
I use the grey square illusion in my lectures for students and will be using it at the UKS conference - wow - what a coincidence
The illusion works in a similar way to that for Emmertt's law on after-images, in the sense that both are based on unavoidable perceptual assumptions applied to physical sensations. The checkerboard works partly due to the colour of the squares around both of them being opposites and the cylinder casting a shadow.
Physical sensation on the retina shows they are both recorded as the same, but the contrast from opposite squares and because the brain 'knows' that if one square is the same brightness as the other - but is in shadow, then it must be different and so it makes adjustments accordingly for perception. It is an internal brain-based hypothesis based on physical data and internal knowledge of the world - it leads to an incorrect percpetion. It is an illusion and not a belief.
We have had numerous discussions on thei board on the relationship between illusion, delusion, and hallucination...i suggest a search on those terms will lead to some interesting further reading
Last edited by Dr B; 7th September 2009 at 12:17 PM.
Why is cheese?