Even Smart People Believe Dumb Things

It can be both entertaining and worrisome to hear about other people’s strange and sometimes downright dumb beliefs.  Anyone, even smart people, can believe in such weird things as UFOs, paranormal phenomena, ESP, astrology, ghosts, hauntings, (and even God, for some reason), etc.  We obviously have zero proof that ESP, for example, exists or can occur and yet many well-educated people believe that it does and can occur.  Many well-educated people believe in God or that a supreme higher power made this terrestrial rock we live on called Earth.  Why is this? People, including smart people, believe dumb things because they are skilled at defending these beliefs they arrived at for non-logical reasons.

We normally arrive at our beliefs for reasons other than rational, logical ones.  We arrive often at our beliefs because we were either taught (or told) to believe such things, have been influenced by our peers or siblings, educational experiences, and due to genetic predispositions.  Usually, we arrive at our beliefs without sitting and looking at the facts.  We don’t always choose the most logical and rational beliefs to maintain, even regardless of what we believed before.

In psychology, we refer to believing in something by only examining the evidence that supports our beliefs and ignoring all other evidence that runs contrary to our beliefs as the confirmation bias.  We are all guilty of this thinking error.  The confirmation bias can lead down the road to making false conclusions or bad decisions whereas if we had weighed out all the evidence for something, we might have arrived at a different conclusion or made a different decision.  With the confirmation bias, we look at only the evidence we like and ignore the ugly, pesky evidence that runs contrary to our belief.  This is why using the scientific method in our daily lives is so crucial.  We can weigh out bad decision making as much as we can and instead look at all the positive and negative evidence for what we believe or are asserting.

Sadly, as important as education is, it does not cure the problem of the confirmation bias, but only reduces it a little.  According to Michael Shermer in his book Skeptic, a study was performed by the National Science Foundation (April 2002) on the overall state of scientific understanding across the U.S.  This study found out the following of American adults: 30 percent believe that UFOs are space vehicles from other civilizations, 60 percent believe in ESP, 40 percent believe that astrology is scientific (how???), 32 percent believe in lucky numbers, 88 percent believe that alternative medicine is a viable means for treating illnesses, etc.  Unfortunately, the study found that education did little to influence people’s beliefs, especially relating to the above-mentioned beliefs.

What’s even more disturbing is that 70 percent of Americans do not understand the basic scientific process, defined as embracing probability, the experimental method, and testing one’s hypothesis.   Obviously, as people take more science courses, such as biology, physics, chemistry, etc., the greater the understanding of the scientific process there is.  Additionally, many people feel distanced from the scientific process as they do not have a clear understanding of the scientific method.  In order to attenuate this problem, we need to teach people that science is not a bunch of loose factoids, but a set of methods used to describe and interpret phenomena, both past and present, aimed at building a testable body of knowledge open to rejection or confirmation.  Science is a way of thinking that recognizes the need to test hypotheses so that the process is not reduced to mere opinion mongering, that the findings of such tests are provisional and probabilistic, and that natural explanations are always sought for natural phenomena. Superstition and pseudoscience are not welcomed!

Using the scientific method, we can weed out the pseudoscientific beliefs we manage to believe, such as ESP, UFOs from other civilizations, lucky numbers, ghosts, hauntings, etc.

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I am a college student at the University of Texas at San Antonio. I am a psychology major but plan to earn a Master's Degree of Meteorology after graduating. I have always been fascinated by weather and what causes weather to change. I have always wanted to make meteorology my career and to help change it to make it more accurate to save people's lives. Plus, this is the field that interests me most as well as brings me the most pleasure. I have several hobbies. I love flying airplanes (although haven't in several years due to financial reasons) and traveling. Both of these hobbies obviously are impacted by weather, which makes the field even more pertinent to me. I enjoy hanging out with friends and family. I have a wonderful girlfriend who I love dearly and will one day merry.

Categories Religion, Science, Thoughts2 Comments

2 thoughts on “Even Smart People Believe Dumb Things”

  1. I love it! Thanks for sharing your perspective on this.

    This topic leads my mind to consider if smart people have always believed and are continuously believing dumb things. Like Pluto being a planet. That’s now considered false. That the Polio vaccine needs to be alive instead of dead like Dr. Salks version. https://agarcia.tv/2018/01/22/could-you-patent-the-sun/

    Newton and Einstein are smart people but as Dr. Kaku has pointed out our physics textbooks might be entirely wrong right now. Science is always changing. But the old science, the outdated science could be considered as a dumb thing. A dumb thing that smart people once believed.

    I was told once that just because something is logical, doesn’t mean it’s true. This blew my mind. It made me question how reliable the human mind was. Are we drunk with ignorance? Is it really that hard to know the truth immediately?

    Did we really have to believe in these outdated medical terms and procedures? https://www.verywell.com/outdated-disease-names-2615295 and https://www.history.com/news/history-lists/7-unusual-ancient-medical-techniques

    I’m sure the “doctors” who came up these things were smarter than those around them at the time. But, still… were our best and brightest good enough?


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