Why We Believe Obvious Untruths – The New York Times

How can so many people believe things that are demonstrably false? The question has taken on new urgency as the Trump administration propagates falsehoods about voter fraud, climate change and crime statistics that large swaths of the population have bought into. But collective delusion is not new, nor is it the sole province of the political right. Plenty of liberals believe, counter to scientific consensus, that G.M.O.s are poisonous, and that vaccines cause autism.

The situation is vexing because it seems so easy to solve. The truth is obvious if you bother to look for it, right? This line of thinking leads to explanations of the hoodwinked masses that amount to little more than name calling: “Those people are foolish” or “Those people are monsters.”

Such accounts may make us feel good about ourselves, but they are misguided and simplistic: They reflect a misunderstanding of knowledge that focuses too narrowly on what goes on between our ears. Here is the humbler truth: On their own, individuals are not well equipped to separate fact from fiction, and they never will be. Ignorance is our natural state; it is a product of the way the mind works.

Food for thought.

Source: Why We Believe Obvious Untruths – The New York Times

6 thoughts on “Why We Believe Obvious Untruths – The New York Times

  1. Isn’t a more fundamental issue that of why people aren’t naturally critical of what they see and hear? One of the marks of an “intelligent” person is their continual re-examination of their beliefs.

  2. Isn’t a more fundamental issue that of why people aren’t naturally critical of what they see and hear? One of the marks of an “intelligent” person is their continual re-examination of their beliefs.

  3. It seems like our acceptance of something as “truth” (are the quotes necessary? Sadly now, yes.) depends on how that “truth” more or less validates a shared point of view. Group loyalty is now a higher truth than Truth itself. Truth has contracted a virulent bullshit infection, and the prognosis appears terminal for now.

    A good but hard to get through book by Keith E. Stanovich, The Robot’s Rebellion, conflates “the selfish gene” and cultural memes. It then attempts to figure out how to use a brain demonstrably wired not to be rational into continuously rationally examining all our “truths”, including the ones we picked up in childhood before we developed the capability for rational thought to begin with. Unfortunately the older the concrete, the drier and harder it is.

  4. It seems like our acceptance of something as “truth” (are the quotes necessary? Sadly now, yes.) depends on how that “truth” more or less validates a shared point of view. Group loyalty is now a higher truth than Truth itself. Truth has contracted a virulent bullshit infection, and the prognosis appears terminal for now.

    A good but hard to get through book by Keith E. Stanovich, The Robot’s Rebellion, conflates “the selfish gene” and cultural memes. It then attempts to figure out how to use a brain demonstrably wired not to be rational into continuously rationally examining all our “truths”, including the ones we picked up in childhood before we developed the capability for rational thought to begin with. Unfortunately the older the concrete, the drier and harder it is.

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