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Bill Clinton’s White house suffered from what staffers referred to as “bimbo eruptions”: young women who claimed to have had past sexual relations with the President. To Clinton’s supporters, these eruptions were dismissed as irrelevant distractions from the important work of his presidency; to his opponents, these events were indicative of the moral darkness that lay at the heart his government. Those who believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, and benevolent God rationalize or dismiss natural disasters which kill ten of thousands, while non-believers see these events as evidence that such a God does not exist. A racist who believes Chinese are superior points to all of those successful Chinese and ignores the bums, drug addicts and criminals; a racist who thinks Blacks are inferior points to the bums, drug addicts and criminals while ignoring all of the success stories.

What goes on here, and elsewhere in our lives, is what is known as “confirmation bias.” We have evolved to pay attention to evidence that supports beliefs we hold and to ignore, dismiss, or rationalize away evidence that undermines those beliefs. And this phenomenon is not only found among our duller brethren. There are intelligent people who believe strongly in UFOs, homeopathy, creationism, and that the Giants have a chance at the pennant.
Confirmation bias probably arose in our evolutionary environment because we lived with a small group of people who we knew by name and saw everyday, in a physical environment that didn’t change much from year to year. If we observe that Ug is a bully, given the stability of behavior, we expect that Ug will act like a bully in the future (and his being nice now doesn’t change our opinion). If we observe that game animals come down to the water hole at dusk, given the stability of nature, we expect them to come to the waterhole tomorrow as well. Given the stability of our ancestral environment, confirmatory bias, while perhaps not perfect (it is possible, of course, to be mistaken), was good enough.

However, our greatest intellectual achievement—modern science—is possible only because we thought of a way to overcome confirmation bias. A scientist doesn’t seek an experiment which will confirm the truth of his hypothesis and he doesn’t dismiss evidence that his hypothesis is false. He actively seeks an experiment which will show its falsity. The scientist tries to disprove his hypothesis in a methodology first given detailed elucidation by Karl Popper. But this is not the way we evolved to think. We must learn to think scientifically (just as we must learn to think logically). But given our evolved mental machinery, thinking scientifically is an unnatural intellectual act.
And given the number of people who seem incapable of thinking logically or scientifically, it is not a very common act at that.


People believe what they want to believe.

This is very, very stupid.  It could even be considered evil.

People continue to ignore facts they do not agree with.  They are living in a make believe world, a world created in their own minds.

No one can solve a problem turning a blind eye to the facts, which is what most people do.


The facts no one wants to read.

Comments and referrals to this blog would be greatly appreciated.







Written by solutions777

April 20, 2013 at 5:26 pm

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