Fugitives from Fundamentalism

The Musings of Adult Missionary Kids (MKs) & Former Born-Again Believers

Reality Test 19-How has my thinking gone wrong?

Posted by Ann on April 3, 2011

19) People are generally immune to ideological change and often we don’t realize we are wrong

Resisting paradigm shifts is normal. We know it’s a human issue and have even given it a name– the Planck Problem. As physicist Max Planck observed, scientific innovation rarely occurs by converting opponents—more likely “opponents gradually die out and the growing generation is familiarized with the idea from the beginning”. Immunity to new ideas means even people who are educated and intelligent are unlikely to change deeply held background and core beliefs taken for granted (presuppositions). It’s just the way things are, so a person thinks. As a person gains knowledge and ideas about the world, and these ideas germinate, it becomes habitual to exclude any counterevidence. Confirmation bias occurs. As time passes humans begin to simply ignore information or ideas that don’t fit into their established perspectives. We develop immunities against new ideas. Time inoculates us.

Developments in psychology now indicate the higher the IQ, the greater the likelihood of developing ideological immunities. In other words, the smarter you are, your reasons for defending your points of view become stronger. In science, this human tendency works as a mitigator against the possibility novel ideas will overwhelm current systems and theories, and new theories are typically resisted. Part of this may lie in that, just as with religious believers, scientists may be very invested in their ideas for social, intellectual, or financial reasons. But good science does prevail and, although resisted and slow, change does happen. The geocentric model was displaced by the heliocentric model. The idea of stable continents by continental drift. Creationism by evolution. Sexism and racism by humanism. Change takes evidential support and time.

Humans love debunking the ridiculous ideas of others we know are wrong. We love to criticize the faulty reasoning of others. Yet the true skeptic must see past her emotional responses to have a clearer picture of the way things are, to see how the influence of society and culture frequently subjects science. It helps to look to our history to see how we have evolved in our thinking, to learn from the mistakes of our past to avoid making these mistakes again.

Spinoza’s Dictum: “I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them.”

(with credit to Michael Schermer’s, “How thinking goes wrong”)

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One Response to “Reality Test 19-How has my thinking gone wrong?”

  1. Charity said

    I like this post. To make it even simpler: our beliefs exist in our brains prior to the explanations for those beliefs. Brains are “belief engines”. This means our brains are always on the lookout for patterns to confirm held beliefs, often subconsciously(for instance in politics, religion, and the supernatural). Science is our best method for determining whether our beliefs match reality.

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