ONE thing that is particularly striking about human beings is the way in which we form beliefs. Even more striking is the fact that we have evolved to more than just believe a proposition, we subconsciously filter and colour reality in order to confirm our beliefs. This cyclical nature of beliefs – make an association then sort reality to validate it – has a great evolutionary strength while also being a great weakness.
Understanding the various mechanisms by which we convince ourselves of reality is an important first step in evolving our beliefs in a constantly changing environment. When the ability to intuit a cause and effect relationship in our environment was developing in the human population, the world was much different. Environmental change was much slower. The necessity to change mental models of reality was not as essential as it is today.
In an age of science and technological advancement, beliefs require modification at a much greater rate. Our ability to create patterns from noise in our environment is one thing humans do very well. This ability accounts for how we have moved beyond adapting to the environment and on to adapting the environment to suit our needs.
All well and good you say, where is the problem with being able to create patterns and models of our world? The answer is that we are very good at it. Too good at it, in fact. We can infer patterns where there are none and we are hardwired to find patterns when they may not represent reality accurately. People see the face of Satan in the collapsing World Trade Center towers, or believe their horoscope prediction actually did come true, thereby confirming to them that astrology is real.
It is the fallability of the various innate pattern making and cognitive abilities that led to objective analysis and a formal scientific method. While subjectivity on an issue can vary widely according to factors such as education, cultural, religious, gender and prior beliefs, objective findings via science do not vary. The nature of science is convergence, i.e. as we learn more, theories are cut and refined until we have a closer picture of reality. Ultimately the theories that survive follow the evidence and are further refined by testing. Science is the learning process refined in to a methodology.
Common patterns have been noted been scientists and philosophers for centuries. We now have a system of logic and logical fallacies that allow us to spot these errors in judgement that underpin propositions and beliefs about reality.
In the next few posts I will outline how logical fallacies are employed in support of beliefs and propositions that aren’t scientific in nature (untestable) or erroneous in one way or another. These mental model creating mechanisms are of immense value in learning to tame irrationality by disciplining ourselves to think more critically. I will also outline some of the findings from psychology and neuroscience that highlight cognitive mechanisms the brain uses to make sense of reality.
Science is by nature not a democracy – science is a meritocracy. The price of admission into science is a high level of scholarship and accuracy in following the methods of science.
Science isn’t a democracy but because of human fallability and irrational tendencies, science is a key component in true democracy.