Wednesday 5 September 2018

The Madness of Crowds

So here it is at last. After a creative hiatus I’ve managed to find the inspiration and energy to write. Periodic enervation is a curse upon my soul and a sad interlude of dejection which denudes hope. 
In my previous post I alluded to a sequel where I would advance a few mustered thoughts concerning the underlining psychology and motivation, at least according to the musings of my fevered and disjointed neural connections, as to why certain people are drawn to conspiracies and pseudoscience.
Previously I introduced the concept of why people believe in a flat Earth in spite of the evidence. I suggested that this was not a simple question but I didn’t go into detail with regard to my reasoning. The flat Earth delusion is an extreme example. Other delusions appear more popular, such as deniers of the moon landings and antivaccer advocates. Again, the evidence in favour of man going to the moon and vaccinations not causing autism is overwhelming. So why do people refuse to accept good empirical evidence and continue to believe in madness? And then there is the attraction of pseudoscientific theories and practices such as alternative medicine and astrology- why? Answers to any complex human motivation is going to involve intricate and multi-layered explanations.
There are undoubtedly uneducated folk out there without the mental wherewithall to process information in a critical coherent manner and thus are prone to whims and disinformation (aka fuck wits). That said, there is a reasonable core of folk who appear remarkably lucid, in spite of their weird beliefs, at least on the superficial level. And reading through the various ‘alternative forums’ I certainly gained an impression that a substantial number of contributors were able to engage in logical thought processes.
I’m going to backtrack somewhat (a digression perhaps?). Even the most critical of us have to invoke an element of intellectual ‘trust’. We cannot fully apply our critical facility and spend time independently reviewing available evidence to all novel propositions. As we are not immortal we indulge in an intellectual short cut which for want of a better phrase I’ll call epistemological trust. However, the prudent seeker of knowledge does not indulge his/her trust in everyone or everything. If I want to examine the world of plumbing I would approach an experienced plumber and if I want to learn about Cosmology I would solicit a Professor of Cosmology. What I would not do is take heed of the pontifications of a Hollywood celebrity concerning the dangers of vaccination. To do so would represent the height of intellectual folly. We need to exercise wisdom in choosing our spokesperson. Furthermore, it is important to integrate our newfound knowledge into our existing background of knowledge. Is our new knowledge consistent with what we already know? If not, a critical review of our knowledge base and/or our newfound knowledge is warranted. Sounds sensible doesn’t? I’ve outlined a process that many sensible folk use, often without conscious effort, in their everyday education. I’m using this rather lengthy introduction to support the thrust of my thesis of why rational people believe irrational concepts. 
There are people drawn to alternative propositions and pseudoscience due to a lack of trust in authority and mainstream science. While I think a degree of mistrust is healthy when we consider Government proclamations and intentions, mainstream respectable science should not be approached in this way (I would say that, wouldn’t I?). And why would I say such a thing? Science is a process, a process with checks and balances. If something cannot be independently repeated then it is not worthy of inclusion into the canon of scientific knowledge. This an important distinction to be considered when we contrast science and non-scientific topics such as politics. Scientists can lie but unlike politicians they are always found out, eventually. Healthy scepticism is good in all realms of our endeavour but excessive or total scepticism leads to paranoia and unhappiness. 
Pseudoscience wallows in the hypotheses of true science however, unlike science the hypotheses are not subject to scientific rigour. Thus, pseudoscientists gather data, often ‘cherry picked’ to fulfil their expected notion, but they do not apply the scientific methodology to test their hypotheses- if they did they would be found wanting. In a way it is similar to theology where the answer is already ‘known’ and data is only considered if it fits preconceived dogma. Pseudoscientists are then happy to pass on their findings to a population already primed by their psychological makeup to accept non-mainstream ideas. The so-called facts put forth can seem convincing to someone not formally versed in the scientific process. They are happy to bask in intellectual dissonance and steep themselves in indulgent crapulence with total unmitigated aplomb (steady Flaxen).  
And then there is the internet. We live in unprecedented times when it comes to information. We can access multiple, nay thousands, of interpretations of phenomena, just take your pick. However, information is not of equal quality and this is where we need to engage our critical faculty. This is clearly beyond some folk and some appear to be happy to be led by the nose without too much contemplation or appreciation. Science works and provides answers but often those answers are counter-intuitive or down right repellent. But fear not, because ‘out there’ there will be a crack pot theory that is bound to fit in with all your heart felt convictions.  
I’m going to finish here, not because I’ve exhausted the topic. Indeed, I could witter on in this refrain for another 10,000 words. I’m finishing because people don’t want to read a thesis on a blog, and rightly so, and I’m aware that if I continue too long I’ll lose the few readers I already have. Perhaps a mini-series is in order. Let’s see. 
Too many projects, not enough inclination to finish them.     


1 comment:

  1. "There are undoubtedly uneducated folk out there without the mental wherewithall to process information in a critical coherent manner and thus are prone to whims and disinformation (aka fuck wits)."

    We tend to store them in The Palace of Westminster, Whitehall, and Town Halls/Civic Centres up and down the country. Unfortunately we neglected to remove the powers enjoyed by the rational, so we are ruled over and administered by the aforementioned fuckwits.