The Believing Brain

Posted by Ali Reda | Posted in | Posted on 5/01/2014

The masses have never thirsted after truth. They turn aside from evidence that is not to their taste, preferring to deify error, if error seduce them. Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master; whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim. An individual in a crowd is a grain of sand amid other grains of sand, which the wind stirs up at will ~ Gustave Le Bon - The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
 Living Organisms formed meaningful associations between stimuli (visual, taste) and their effects (dangerous, poisonous) because such associations are vital to survive and reproduce. For Example, in the Paleolithic environment of our ancestors, incest led to the very real problem of genetic mutations from close inbreeding. But also that's why superstitions appear, superstitions are just an accidental form of learning. Haidt proposes that the foundations of our sense of right and wrong rest within five innate and universally available psychological systems.
  1. Harm/care, related to our long evolution as mammals with attachment systems and an ability to feel (and dislike) the pain of others. We have evolved a deep sense of empathy and sympathy for others as we imagine ourselves in their position and what a situation would feel like if it were to happen to us. This foundation underlies such moral virtues as kindness and gentleness.
  2. Fairness/reciprocity, related to the evolutionary process of reciprocal altruism, in which “I’ll scratch your back if you’ll scratch mine.” This eventually evolved into genuine feelings of right and wrong over fair and unfair exchanges—a foundation that leads to such political ideals of justice, rights, and autonomy for individuals.
  3. In-group/loyalty, related to our long history as a tribal species able to form shifting coalitions. We evolved the propensity to form within-group amity for our fellow tribesmen and between-group enmity for anyone in another group. This foundation creates within a tribe a “band-of-brothers” effect and underlies such virtues as patriotism and self-sacrifice for the group.
  4. Authority/respect, shaped by our long primate history of hierarchical social interactions. We evolved a natural tendency to defer to authority, show deference to leaders and experts, and follow the rules and dictates given by those above us in social rank. This foundation underlies such virtues as leadership and fellowship, including esteem for legitimate authority and respect for traditions.
  5. Purity/sanctity, shaped by the psychology of disgust and contamination. We evolved emotions to direct us toward the clean and away from the dirty. This foundation underlies religious notions of striving to live in a less carnal and more elevated and noble way, and it emphasizes the belief that the body is a temple that can be desecrated by immoral activities and contaminants.
Over the years Haidt and his University of Virginia colleague Jesse Graham have surveyed the moral opinions of more than 118,000 people from over a dozen different countries and regions around the world, and they have found this consistent difference between liberals and conservatives: Liberals are higher than conservatives on 1 and 2 (harm/care and fairness/reciprocity), but lower than conservatives on 3, 4, and 5 (in-group/loyalty, authority/respect, and purity/sanctity). Conservatives are roughly equal on all five dimensions: lower than liberals on 1 and 2 but higher on 3, 4, and 5. In other words, liberals question authority, celebrate diversity, and often flaunt faith and tradition in order to care for the weak and oppressed. They want change and justice even at the risk of political and economic chaos. By contrast, conservatives emphasize institutions and traditions, faith and family, and nation and creed. They want order even at the cost of those at the bottom falling through the cracks.

A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices. ~ William James

Reasons for Differences in People's Believes:

Consequently people fight for and against quite irrelevant measures, while the few who have a rational opinion are not listened to because they do not minister to any one's passions ~ Bertrand Russell - On the Value of Scepticism
  1. Clear and quantitative physical differences among people in size, strength, speed, agility, coordination, and other physical attributes translate into some being more successful than others; at least half of these differences are inherited.
  2. Clear and quantitative intellectual differences among people in memory, problem-solving ability, cognitive speed, mathematical talent, spatial reasoning, verbal skills, emotional intelligence, and other mental attributes translate into some being more successful than others; at least half of these differences are inherited.
  3. Evidence from behavioral genetics and twin studies indicate that 40 to 50 percent of the variance among people in temperament, personality, and many political, economic, and social preferences are accounted for by genetics. Without a genetic disposition, the teachings of parents appear to have few lasting effects.
  4. Self Assurance, we hold such self-serving beliefs because they satisfy important psychological needs or motives, such as the motive to maintain self-esteem in order to increase chances of survival. When examining evidence relevant to a given belief, people are inclined to see what they expect to see, and conclude what they expect to conclude. Information that is consistent with our pre-existing beliefs is often accepted at face value, whereas evidence that contradicts them is critically scrutinized and discounted. If beliefs make people feel good, feel better about themselves, gives them hope, etc., then they are likely to adopt it regardless of whether there are very good rational reasons for doing so. As an example we explain the reasons of our success as from inside of us and reasons of our failures as they are outside of us. And it explains Purity/sanctity innate principle.
  5. The need or desire to tell a good story can distort the accuracy of information we receive or which we store in our memory, People will always prefer black-and-white over shades of grey, a better story will always require a messiah and a devil.
  6. Within-group amity and between-group enmity are almost universal. The rule of thumb is to trust in-group members until they prove to be distrustful, and to distrust out-group members until they prove to be trustful. So we trust beliefs from our parents, peer groups, or upbringing. Also a result of this is the respect of authority and people who represent it to increase social bonding in-group and avoid conflict. And it explains the four remaining universal innate principles Harm/care, Fairness/reciprocity, In-group/loyalty and Authority/respect.
  7. The desire of people to trade with one another is almost universal—not for the selfless benefit of others or the society, but for the selfish benefit of one’s own kin and kind; it is an unintended consequence that trade establishes trust between strangers and lowers between group enmity, as well as produces greater wealth for both trading partners and groups.
  8. Aggression, violence, and dominance are almost universal, particularly among young males seeking resources, women, and especially status. Status seeking in particular explains many heretofore unexplained phenomena, such as high risk taking, costly gifts, excessive generosity beyond one’s means, and especially attention seeking.
Man prefers to believe what he prefers to be true. ~Francis Bacon

Why is it Hard for People to change their beliefs?

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept even the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have delighted in explaining to colleagues, which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabric of their lives. ~ Leo Tolstoy
"Beliefs are like possessions." We acquire and retain material possessions because of the functions they serve and the value they offer. As Abelson notes, the similarity between beliefs and possessions is captured in our language. First of all, a person is said to "have" a belief, and this ownership connotation is maintained throughout a belief's history, from the time it is "obtained" to the time it is "discarded." We describe the formation of beliefs with numerous references to possession.

Beliefs are a type of private property—in the form of our private thoughts with public expressions and therefore the endowment effect applies to belief systems. The longer we hold a belief, the more we have invested in it; the more publicly committed we are to it, the more we endow it with value and the less likely we are to give it up. status quo bias, or the tendency to opt for whatever it is we are used to, so we have the tendency to seek and find confirmatory evidence in support of already existing beliefs and ignore or reinterpret dis-confirming evidence.
The soft-minded man always fears change. He feels security in the status quo, and he has an almost morbid fear of the new. For him, the greatest pain is the pain of a new idea. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Other Famous Biases include:

  • The anchoring effect: the tendency to rely too heavily on a past reference or on one piece of information when making decisions . The comparison anchor can even be entirely arbitrary. In one study subjects were asked to give the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and then asked to estimate the number of physicians in New York City. Bizarrely, people with higher Social Security numbers tended to give higher estimates for the number of docs in Manhattan.
  • Inattentional blindness: the tendency to miss something obvious and general while attending to something special and specific.
  • Confabulation bias: the tendency to conflate memories with imagination and other people’s accounts as one’s own.
  • Illusory correlation: the tendency to assume that a causal connection (correlation) exists between two variables; another form of patternicity.
  • Negativity bias: the tendency to pay closer attention and give more weight to negative events, beliefs, and information than to positive.
  • Normalcy bias: the tendency to discount the possibility of a disaster that has never happened before.
  • Recency effect: the tendency to notice, remember, and assess as more valuable recent events more than earlier events.
  • Stereotyping or generalization bias: the tendency to assume that a member of a group will have certain characteristics believed to represent the group without having actual information about that particular member.

How Can We Avoid Biases and Superstitions?

The principle of positive evidence states that you must have positive evidence in favor of your theory and not just negative evidence against rival theories. Show me the Intelligent Designer. Show me God. Show me and I will believe.
A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. ~ Max Planck
Sorrow is knowledge: They who know the most must mourn the deepest o'er the fatal truth, the tree of knowledge is not that of life. ” — George Gordon Byron
 The question is how to arrive at your opinions and not what your opinions are. ” —Bertrand Russell
Arguing with a fool proves there are two ~ Doris M. Smith
Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something ~ Plato 
Most people would rather die than think; in fact they do so ~ Bertrand Russell 
قيمةُ المرءِ ما قَد كانَ يُحسنُهُ والجاهلونَ لأهلِ العلمِ أعداء
فقم بعلمٍ ولا تطلُبْ بهِ بدلاً فالناسُ موتى وأهلُ العلمِ أحياء”
― علي بن أبي طالب, ديوان الإمام علي

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