If you haven’t read already here is the The New Religion of the 21st Century (part 1)
The Halo Effect and One Application
In The Gifts of Science in a Frustrated World I wrote about the mistakes every human being does every day in their thinking and are categorized as cognitive biases. I explained specifically the Dunning Kruger effect which in a few words is the inability of the incompetent ones in a subject to estimate their levels of incompetency. This leads them to behave as experts without understanding the irony that occurs. I also wrote that the new trend is aesthetically taken care very well. Many of the preachings are extremely close to fairytales. All the stories are full of positivity and the content is simple but the words impressive. Even though there are difficulties there is always a happy ending in what we are suffering from at the moment.
Another cognitive bias that has been serially used by the mentors of the new trend. It is called Halo Effect. This is one of the most important mistakes we every day do in our thinking. It’s how easily people identify as “good” something that is aesthetically nice. You can understand that a very good decoration with poor substance can easily impress people. And unfortuately a lot of times it can be preferred by people much more than something more substantial but with less focus on the decoration.
Most of you know Deepak Chopra. Have a look at these quotes:
- “Your body is at the heart of your own positivity”
- “The mind gives rise to the door of mortality”
- “The cosmos relies on the mechanics of chaos”
- “Qualia is entangled in total acceptance of abstract beauty”
What do you think of them? Chopra is one of the evangelists of the trend I am talking about. Even though every knowledgeable person knows that almost everything he says doesn’t make any sense, he has many followers. It has been said by some that his thoughts and tweets are indistinguishable from a set of profound sounding words put together in a random order, particularly the tweets tagged with “#cosmisconciousness”. The site wisdomofchopra.com aims to test that claim. The above “quotes” were generated from a list of words that can be found in Deepak Chopra’s Twitter stream randomly stuck together in a sentence. In the above link you can generate as many as you want. You can also implement this method in your lives whenever you want to stretch your ethics because reasoning doesn’t suit you in a situation. In that case you may want to avoid reasoning either because you don’t have substantial arguments or because you understand that the other person seems unable to follow the logic.
Even though science and human knowledge increase in total, we are still talking about a brain that behaves with the same way as 10 thousand generations ago. This is how evolution works. As the ancient tribes had their temple and the magician who was curing them from illnesses. Like the old Patent Medicine Shows in the USA where scammers were travelling all around the country and were talking about new elixirs they had invented. They used to pick a person from the crowd to participate in the presentation that no one knew that s/he was a friend of theirs. Also, all the characters were unique.
I’m afraid today still the same things are happening the same way. Sorcerers that make inventions violating every possible law of the universe that preach to their pilgrims to follow their ideas and deny critical thinking and facts. They go from city to city or do online webinars and organize events exactly like the tents I mentioned providing “proofs” about their products. A dogma is a set of fixed rules and it doesn’t make any significant difference if it is called jesus, ra, any pseudoscience name, universe or flying pizza. The principles are the same. And people seem to be still very well prone to them. As Voltaire had wisely said:
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.
As we said believing in something just because you think it happens is not enough for it to be true. Once again I will point you to the 27 basic categories of cognitive biases we are trapped in every day. One way I follow in order to find out if I am in a delusion is to look if my opinion on the issue suits me. If it suits me then I double check it even more because these means that I am biased to reach this conclusion. The oppossite seems to be happening with the new trend. Look at it carefully. Everything, literally everything it offers suits us. Religions were suitable, too, but the new trend is even more likeable. In the previous part I explained that this specifically was its major difference that made it adaptable to our times.
The Reasons why We Practically Search for Alternatives to Science
But how come and even though science undoubtedly offers humanity the by far most effective method of finding the truth doesn’t apply to many of us in practice.
Fear to Face the Objective Truth
First of all, as I said, science searches for the truth independently of our needs. This by definition means that many conclusions that come either from scientists either from self-experimentation might be quite unsettling. If you notice that with diet pills, lemon water and teas alone you can’t lose weight then this is not a happy finding. If in the experiment in the example in the Gifts of Science in a Frustrated World you find out that prayer isn’t enough to increase your wealth then this means that you have to search and find another more effective yet perhaps more difficult way to achieve the results you want.
At the same time we see people believing things that science is definitely not needed to explain to them that don’t exist. Of course I exclude the schizotipic types that hear voices from bushes, sleep with angels and see paintings cry because this is a disorder we are talking and deserves treatment. But there are many others that believe that a virgin once had a child, a person walked on waters, others have obsessions with lucky numbers, others try to find patterns all around to prove that a higher being is taking care of their issues, significant or not.
All the above take me to the conclusion that the search for knowledge and understanding is not so much a matter of I.Q but a matter of emotions. Simply of fear. The majority of people have more than enough logic to understand how irrational all the above and many others are. However, our mind that was shaped for an environment that our ancestors lived till 10.000 generations ago works in mysterious ways to some. Because it works for the efficiency and reproduction in a much more dangerous environment.
We don’t want to know the truth because it scares us. And we delete it. Subconsciously. We may need to change something, we may have to implement behaviors we don’t have enough experience. We may have to stand out. And most importantly we may need to change the beliefs that were settling us. If you have a higher being protecting you is easier. What happens when your results depend only on your initiatives and consistency? I am convinced that the people that understand better when their emotions contradict their logic are definitely the ones who are getting closer to the truth.
The second reason that in my opinion people stay away from the scientific thinking and the logic is boredom. It is a scientific fact that the process of rational arguments is costly for the human brain. The brain needs to be focused, you can’t do anything else simultaneously and it easily gets tired. That’s why at school the most difficult classes are the ones that have to do with scientific courses. The human brain accepts art performances much easier. Everyone likes music, watches movies, likes paintings and many people read some novels. And the fact that people look more into arts than in science when searching for answers may sound ironic but it isn’t as I wrote in Do you actually learn about real life from art? Thus following a scientific perspective is something that needs extra motivation, willpower and self-actualization. It also needs good education. Children need to learn from early to embrace their curiosity and to always look for new ideas and findings. But I’m afraid they won’t learn it from TV programmes, parents and teachers who don’t embrace this mentality themselves.
Commitment and Consistency
The third reason for me is what the social psychologist Dr. Robert Cialdini described in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion at the 3rd chapter: Commitment and Consistency: Hobgoblins of the Mind. What Cialdini explained is that humans find very difficult to change direction in beliefs that have been commited to for years. The more you have commited in something the more difficult is to someday understand that you have been mistaken. This is hard right? Commitment means that you have based many positive emotions in these beliefs. These beliefs make you feel secure, happy and hopeful. You may accept negativities in your every day life because you have beliefs about things that will happen in the future so you remain patient. What are you gonna do if you one day found that realistically these beliefs were mistaken and the only one that can untrap you is yourself? Or that all these methods you have tried were ineffective? We need to understand that is not easy for a brain to accept that a hope is gone because it was just a fantasy or that our maybe extreme focus was useless or that we aren’t (yet) so good as we thought we were.
Maybe the greatest philosopher of all times but for sure one of the most influential ones, Friedrich Nietsche had described convictions as the enemy of truth. When you are firmly certain about specific beliefs and you release anger every time they are contradict then you leave close any possible road that could progress you. Think about this: Were there any time in the past that you were convinced about something which in the end was proven untrue? I am sure it has happened. Did you learn that lesson? Do you understand that you were cognitively biased? If, yes, did you learn that lesson? If you are very convinced now why is that, then?
How Can We Change Our Tendencies
So all of these reasons prove that an effective search for answers depends a lot on us. By going beyond our procrastination and self-limiting beliefs in practice we actually come from a predisposition of maturity. Maturity means being spontaneously open to all perspectives that may arise, as David De Angelo says. These perspectives can concern new knowledge that contradicts our existing beliefs. But also means understanding our fallacies as typical facts of any process of improvement (even if we sometimes feel desperate) and not as failures. The latter will set us free. Because with a mindset of growth we have nothing to prove to anyone and most importantly to ourselves. We are just constantly chipping away the access stone of our character, as the positive psychologist Dr. Tal Ben Shahar often says.
How can a person behave as if they know everything. They may not recognize that but this is what happens (Dunning Kruger effect). How can a person know things that thousands of brilliant minds have already studied but haven’t reached a conclusion? How can a person be sure that a scientific finding is wrong even though it has been replicated for hundreds of times? When at the same time even if we contain in one mind all the world’s knowledge s/he couldn’t still be able to know basic things. For example, s/he couldn’t know about the exact processes during the Big Bang.
The ideas that fill most people’s minds are the ones that come from their parents, their friends, the school and the TV. This can no way be adequate. What if you could download in your brain all these wonderful ideas and teachings of the brilliant minds that have moved the world forward? The ideas of people that pushed the boundaries of the human understanding. Of course you can have them all ready and willing to be downloaded in your brain. You can store them in your library, in your kindle, in your mobile phone, in your laptop and in many other places and devices. Now they are more open to us than ever.
Imagine how irrationl it sounds that someone behaves as if they are the experts without even researching. It’s like being sure that there isn’t anything outside the earth because this is what we see. And, as I said before, in fact there isn’t any reason to do that. As what matters is not the level we are at the moment. It doesn’t matter if we are 5/10 while our neighbour is 8/10. Instead what really matters is the mindset we cultivate that will lead us to behaviors that progress us and really make our lives better. The every day disciplines we follow that open to us the incredible joy of understanding as Leonardo had said. People say they want answers, they want enlightment but they want it to come in a package. This is unrealistic. The entrepreneur Tai Lopez told it best. That the enlightment you search is itself the process when you set your curiosity free and then keep feeding it. It seems to me at least that enlightment is the journey which doesn’t seem to have an end point in it, at least in our lives.
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