Psychologist Daniel Kahneman likes to pose the following problem to audiences to illustrate our habitual modes of thinking:
A bat and a ball cost $1.10 together and the bat costs one dollar more than the ball. How much does the ball cost?
It turns out that about 50 percent of students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology got the answer wrong. The proportion reached as high as 90 percent at other unnamed universities. Okay, now that you've had time to reflect on the answer, you'll realize that your instinct was probably to answer 10 cents. But, of course, that's wrong. And, all you have to do is some elementary math to realize it's wrong, and then arrive at the correct answer: The ball costs 5 cents.
What's in operation here are two systems of interpreting the world, one associative and one logical, often referred to in psychology as System 1 and System 2, respectively. System 1 picks up the numbers $1.10 and $1 and makes an incorrect leap that the ball costs 10 cents. System 2 does the math and then corrects the error. It's something that happens every day in our lives. But, in this case what is at stake is regarded by most people as so trivial that even very smart ones fail to engage System 2 to check their answer. If, instead of being faced with a trivial problem that has no impact on your life, you were considering which house to buy, you would probably be engaging System 2 on a regular basis. You would be trying to determine if you were getting a fair price by, for example, checking home values nearby, comparing square footage and evaluating features such as a swimming pool or finished basement.
And, this brings me to my topic. Issues such as climate change and peak oil seem so abstract to most people that they do not see them as pressing issues that require a thorough analysis and immediate action. This is true because the effects are not immediately impinging on them or, at least, they unable to connect what effects there are to themselves. And, the usual fact-filled analysis that is often thrown at them therefore doesn't interest them much. As it turns out, information that is new, but not consistent with one's current belief system, is normally discarded by most people. Typically, only some exceptional concrete change of circumstances will cause people to open their belief systems to contradictory information.
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Common DreamsPublished on Monday, June 18, 2012 by Common Dreams
Dark Ages Redux: American Politics and the End of the Enlightenment
by John Atcheson
We are witnessing an epochal shift in our socio-political world. We are de-evolving, hurtling headlong into a past that was defined by serfs and lords; by necromancy and superstition; by policies based on fiat, not facts.
Much of what has made the modern world in general, and the United States in particular, a free and prosperous society comes directly from insights that arose during the Enlightenment.
Too bad we’re chucking it all out and returning to the Dark Ages.
Two main things distinguished the post Enlightenment world from the pre Enlightenment Dark Ages.
First, Francis Bacon’s Novo Organum Scientiarum (The New Instrument of Science) introduced a new way of understanding the world, in which empiricism, facts and … well … reality … defined what was real. It essentially outlined the scientific method: observation and data collection, formulation of hypotheses, experiments designed to test hypotheses and elevation of these hypotheses to theories when data consistently supported them. It was and is a system based on skepticism, and a relentless and methodical search for truth.
It brought us advances and untold wealth and health. From one-horse carts to automobiles to airplanes. From leaches and phrenology to penicillin and monoclonal antibodies.
Now, we seek to operate by revealed truths, not reality. Decrees from on high – often issued by an unholy alliance of religious fundamentalists, self-interested corporations, and greedy fat cats – are offered up as reality by rightwing politicians.
For example, North Carolina law-makers recently passed legislation against sea level rise. A day later, the Virginia legislature required that references to global warming, climate change and sea level rise be excised from a proposed study on sea level rise. Last year, the Texas Department of Environmental Quality, which had commissioned a study on Galveston Bay, cut all references to sea level rise – the main point of the study.
That last is a great rant and both are worth the time to read, h/t to Some Assembly Required blog. Just a warning, don't bother reading if you think climate change is a conspiracy to make Gore rich or that DDT was divinely inspired.
I'm simply amazed at the ability of humans to ignore reality, to accept the thing that most fits with their pre-conceived beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. That is actually too kind, people vehemently, aggressively deny and attack that which makes them uncomfortable, that cramps their knee-jerk reaction.
I'm no logical giant but I think I accept new information and change my outlook based on evidence rather than revelation - of course put that way, I doubt anyone sees themselves as a Flat-Earther.
So are you a skeptic in the scientific, repeatable result sense or are you a sceptic in the "follow your knee" sense?