Dr. Steven Novella has made a very good post over at neurologia blog.
Humans are not entirely rational creatures. We all know this from daily experience, although we happily assume that we are more rational than other people (which is just one of our irrationalities). We are motivated by the need for meaning, and for esteem. We tend to pick sides, and then invest our egos in that side, defending it at all costs.
We are also motivated by the need for simplicity and control. The world is a very complex place, overwhelmingly so. Therefore we need to simplify it in our minds, so that we can deal with it. We use schematics, and categories, and rules of thumb to impose a manageable order on the chaos of reality. These devices are quite adaptive, as long as we realize that they are just that – human devices to approximate reality in a way we can handle.
But too often we confuse our simplistic models of reality with reality. Further, we like our morality plays to be black and white. The villains are villains, without redeeming qualities. The good guys wear white and have no major flaws (nothing beyond an endearing quirk). The ambiguities and gray of the world make us feel uncomfortable. This tendency, by the way, leads to certain logical fallacies, such as poisoning the well. If Hitler believed something, and everything Hitler did was bad, then that belief must also be bad.
I know from experience that many skeptics make it hard to like them. They can come off as (and be) instantly judgmental and unskeptical of their own opinions because they think they have the golden method for determining what is true. However, skepticism as a method, is a way of evaluating truth claims that incorporates the fallibilities of the human mind into the equation, and that is very, very important.
Take this optical illusion which I found on bad astronomy.
Optical illusions strike at the heart of the concept of our brains being pure machines that records what we see and keeps it on “hard disk” so to speak.
Someone once asked me that didn’t I know that people who choose to believe in woo, already know this stuff? In my experience this is not the case, people who credulously relay what they’ve heard or say “I believe it because I saw it”, don’t know about the ways the brain can trick us. Skepticism acknowledges that the road to truth requires standards of evidence and knowledge of the human psyche. This is why I find it to be the most reliable “ideology” (if that word even fits) that one can prescribe to; well above any dogma or political faith.
Posted on: Tuesday, June 07, 2011 8:52 PM