Why do we believe weird things? As smart as we can be, why do we believe weird things?
I am reminded of Michael Shermer’s view, when he’s asked why smart people believe weird things, like creationism, ghosts and (as with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle) fairies: “Smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasons.” If you’ve ever argued with a smart person about an obviously flawed belief, like ghosts or astrology, you’ll recognise this: their justifications often involve obfuscation, deep conjecture into areas you probably haven’t considered (and that probably aren’t) relevant, and are all tied together neatly and eloquently because she’s a smart person. The dangers of being smart
I am aware of when I have a belief that I have thought about for years, and have reasons for those beliefs, may just not be true.
I always tell myself, yeah, I have reasons for this belief but it still might not be true. However, how many such beliefs have I real good reasons for and nice solid theory, that are incompatible with reality? That I have no idea.
Beliefs can be contorted reasoning
When I was suffering with a deep, dark, depression I went to a therapist. And I told her my rational for the beliefs I had. And she told me ‘I can’t argue with your reasoning because you are too smart.’ I was taken-aback and upset. I wanted someone not immersed into the darkness of depression to rationalize me out of it. Tell me how my beliefs and perception of suffering were wrong and how they were wrong. I later saw a psychologist at the pain clinic who definitely was able to demonstrate how my beliefs were distorted and to show me when I spoke a claim how it was being distorted. Which has led me to understand when I say something to myself what I am doing and then to be able to rationally confront that thought. I needed someone to show me the ways depression distorts thought. I needed to understand those. Because I had reasons, man, I had reasons for those beliefs. We all have reasons when we are depressed. But they are magnified in various ways that make them extremely more powerful. To be honest, you can’t argue the reasons. My reasons were extremely valid. You have to argue the reasoning process.
Depression is by no means an easy thing to treat. Or it wasn’t for me. Cognitive therapy helps, but depression is a beast. It isn’t something you can think yourself out of. It is much easier to ruminate and just get sucked into a vortex of horror. That is a talent I do exceptionally well at. But, that being said, cognitive therapy did help me a bit. With medication. I can say the things we say to ourselves isn’t always true and sometimes it is very cruel. Then we think it a thousand times until our brain understands this insanely cruel thought to be absolute truth.
Another example is that I believe in ghosts. I do not believe in gods. But I rationalize this in many ways. Like the possibility of quantum consciousness. And I have had ghost experiences I cannot understand.
But I always turn this belief on itself. I cannot know if it is a true belief or I just want to believe it.
Because the senses lie. Lie-sense-data can explain a vast amount of our experiences with the paranormal. I had an experience once when I was waking up. But I know logically in the twilight zone of sleep before we fall asleep or are just waking up we can have a lot of experiences, hallucinations, that are not real.
I also get migraine with aura. And some aura you know are the brain, but some… you just do not know. Like olfactory hallucinations. I smell something that isn’t there. But I will look for it, I’ll tell you that. Or auditory hallucinations. I was getting this music box tune. I looked for every source it was outside of my head. And it creeped me out. But, that too, is just a possible migraine hallucination.
And I get sleep paralysis. So many times on ghost shows they say ‘This ghost experience happened at night and I was paralyzed while it happened’ Ah, yes, and sleep paralysis could account for literally every detail they experienced.
So many experiences could just be my brain. One experience, I cannot account for by sleep phenomena or migraines or anything at all. But it doesn’t change the fact it might have been a hallucination, for whatever reason (like medication for example). I understand the brain interprets reality. And it doesn’t always do it right. It’s processing of reality is its best interpretation of what is going on. And as we know, with such things as optical illusions, it sometimes doesn’t interpret what is going on right. So while I do believe in ghosts… I hold myself back on that belief. I understand it might not be possible. But it might be possible. I just have to acknowledge it very well might not be.
I like to think about things that way. I am right about some theory or belief. But What If I am wrong? And then look at the flip side. You can still say, I believe I am right, but acknowledge you could very well be wrong. Or acknowledge you might even be wrong but you hold that belief like you do because you want to. However, I have a Masters in Philosophy, so I literally tend to think everything has a solid counter-argument. But, also, I can analyse a counter-argument and pretty much prove I am right. And still understand I could be wrong and be convinced otherwise by an even better theory or argument. And yet, to be wise is to know you know nothing. We never have a complete understanding of reality. There is always more information to learn. The possibility of being wrong is always there. The possibility there is no right answer is also, often, there. And you have to use Occam’s Razor often. Is it possible my convoluted theory is right? Totally. Or is it possibly the vastly simpler theory is right? Yeah, that more concise, simpler theory is much more likely usually. And, of course, it is possible your belief was developed with distorted thinking. You hold it. Strongly. But the processing of the belief is built on emotional reasoning and distorted thinking.
Depression and migraine with aura basically have told me my thinking affects reality and reality is just a hallucination of the brain. The flexibility to analyze your beliefs and potentially change them, I think, is also a sign of intelligence. Or to acknowledge you hold them because of emotionally satisfying reasons. But, I am not going to engage in radical doubt like good old Descartes. There are solid scientific theories for many things that denying because we cannot truly know beyond a sliver of doubt that this entire reality is not just a dream we are having … that is a tad extreme. Just have a healthy skepticism for the beliefs you hold. Do I believe in ghosts? Sometimes. Why? Because it is emotionally satisfying for me to believe there is some sort of existence beyond life.
But one thing I know, highly intelligent or not, we believe weird things. I suppose intelligence may be ‘beneficial’ in creating a cohesive, complex, theory about a belief. So we then say ‘I have reasons for this belief and I shall explain it in infinite detail until you comprehend the error in your ways’ but it is a belief. And we have reasons of weird beliefs beyond the story we tell ourselves about it.
Other posts about random things I think about:
The skepticism of flatearthers