November 25, 2020

Why People “Fly from Facts”

Why People “Fly from Facts”

Sorry for this late and incomplete posting, friends.  I just couldn’t find a science and faith article that sparked my interest, and I just couldn’t find the mental energy to dig in to something.  This article from Scientific American will have to do.  The authors examine why people seem to turn to other belief mechanisms especially when the facts don’t seem to be on their side.  The article says:

So after examining the power of untestable beliefs, what have we learned about dealing with human psychology? We have learned that bias is a disease and to fight it we need a healthy treatment of facts and education. We find that when facts are injected into the conversation, the symptoms of bias become less severe. But, unfortunately, we have also learned that facts can only do so much. To avoid coming to undesirable conclusions, people can fly from the facts and use other tools in their deep, belief-protecting toolbox.

With the disease of bias, then, societal immunity is better achieved when people are encouraged to accept ambiguity, engage in critical thinking and reject strict ideology. This society is something the Common Core State Standards for education and at times The Daily Show are at least in theory helping to create. We will never eradicate bias—not from others, not from ourselves, not from society. But we can become more free of ideology and less free of facts.

Read the article and let’s discuss.  The authors adopt a positive viewpoint in conclusion, but, given the events of this year so far, can we really “become more free of ideology and less free of facts”?  For the sake of my grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I fervently hope so.

Comments

  1. senecagriggs says

    Good luck with that. This is humanity 101. It’s broken. That’s why we need a Savior.

    • The problem is that the bias even affects how we understand the Savior! (Thus the 300+ Baptist denominations in the US alone.)

      Fortunately (I hope), we have a God who will not require we pass a theology test at the pearly gates (contrary to the belief of some of my friends).

      • No, the Final Exam is on how we treat others – something far far harder to pass.

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          During my time in-country, the Final Exam at the Great White Throne was one question and one question only:
          “Did You Accept My Only Begotten Son Jesus Christ Into Your Heart as Your Personal LORD And Savior?”

    • But even Jesus tried to teach people how to change. He wasn’t just Savior, he was Teacher.

    • A fairy god-mother would work just as well for Evangelicals, in my experience.

  2. As a country, we just need to be investing a *lot* more money into our education system. That would not only be a huge boost to our economy (making more American workers capable of getting jobs in the knowledge economy that will dominate our future labor market) but it would also allow a lot more people to reach the level of critical thinking and intellectual sophistication necessary to be able to parse ambiguous information without resorting to mental shortcuts.

    Whether we have the political will to do so is another question, but it’s heartbreaking the way we’re setting up entire generations of kids for failure by not giving them the tools they need to succeed.

    • Invest it in what ways? I don’t think just throwing money at the current system we have will fix it. In our area two major problems, which are connected, are an inability to discipline students, and uninvolved parents. So how do we use the money to fix that? And please don’t take this as a snarky comment, I’m actually wondering how you would invest the money to help.

      • Well we can learn from other folk’s successes. I would recommend everyone examine the Finnish educational system which by all metrics is the finest educational system in the world. Americans give education lip service but we really don’t take it very seriously. Spending money on education is not “throwing” it at anything. It’s an investment in our country. An educated populace benefits everyone.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      There was, at one time, in a galaxy far, far away, a group of concerned African American fathers who started a charter school (with considerable public funding) for their sons, and other African American boys. They hired only African American men as teachers, with the exception of the music teacher, who was the White wife of one of the other teachers.

      The regimen was strict. There were uniforms except for African garb on certain days. The emphasis was on math, science, and languages. The boys throve. After three years, under pressure, they admitted a small number of White and Hispanic boys. These boys also throve. Then, in the fifth year, they were taken court for discrimination, not allowing girls. Whatever group that sponsored the litigation won and girls/women were admitted to the school, both as students and as educators. The whole project fell apart. It had, apparently been the all-male elan of the school that made it a salutatory place for young men in a challenging environment.

      The founding fathers of the institution lost interest and motivation and the school closed a few years later.

      Make of that what you will.

      • You should ask Jennifer Doudna and Emmanuelle Charpentier what they think of this charming anecdote.

        • Apples and oranges. Mule’s talking about a school where people voluntarily taught and sent their young boys, who would presumably attend coeducational colleges when they were older, if so inclined. If people want same-sex institutions to which they belong voluntarily, why can’t they have them? The “answer” for Mule’s example was not to invade (and ultimately destroy) that school, but to start others on the same model/with the same standards, to which people could voluntarily send their children, and that would admit whomever they wished to admit. Nobody’s talking about holding girls – or anyone else – back

          I’m a substitute teacher (up until the COVID shutdowns). Within the first ten minutes of walking into a classroom I can tell which students have parental support for their education (and life) and which do not. A lot of single parents manage to provide a good level of support; that’s not the only factor. However, things are almost always worse for the students when there’s a live-in girlfriend/boyfriend rather than either their own single parent or their two married parents. Money can’t fix this.

          Money could fix class size, which is the second most important thing for successful educational outcomes, after parental support. Lots of studies have shown that any more than 15 students in a classroom makes the kind of instruction we say we want for our children impossible. For whatever reasons, we don’t have the will to do make this change.

          Dana

          • Burro (Mule) says

            Honestly, Dana, there were more factors involved in the demise of the academy than the presence of cootie-laden girls. One man was carrying the lion’s share of the burden in running interference with government entities, parents, and suppliers, and when the school deviated from his original vision, he sort of lost heart and nobody took up the slack.

            The point was that we’re usually more willing to try more of what we’re already doing even when it is manifestly not working than to try something different.

          • Agreed about the class size. Less students per teacher is more time for each student, and an easier to control classroom as well.

        • Burro (Mule) says

          I’m certain that two such intelligent women would be able to discern my purpose in sharing my charming anecdote better than you have.

  3. One problem with the author’s treatment of bias is that even facts and education can be used to create bias. How we choose to present the facts, the facts we choose to focus on, the facts we ignore, what we focus our education on, can all create bias. One reason few people trust the media anymore is that even if they are not outright lying to us, many people believe that they shaping the narrative to suit themselves. If it hurts their narrative they don’t report it. If it helps their narrative, they shine a spotlight on it. People see this and lose trust. And when you don’t have a source you can trust, it is hard to know the facts.

    • One last comment and then I won’t be able to comment for a while. Most universities are for me an example of what I’m talking about. Most are overwhelmingly represented by the left in the humanities. This is going to create a biased education in what they choose to focus on and how the present it. In that case further education isn’t going to help without some balance. In a perfect world a teacher would be able to present a subject without bias, but this isn’t a perfect world.

      • There is certainly a strong correlation between universities and the left, although that may be largely due to the left being overall (not universally) more intellectually honest and open-minded as opposed to the right and their generally more antiquated, narrow-minded approach to issues. [For the record, I do appreciate the perspective and arguments you share here.]

        • Burro (Mule) says

          due to the left being overall (not universally) more intellectually honest and open-minded

          I always attributed this to a remarkable amount of freedom from pragmatic, market-based pressure. It may behoove you to spend some time around more astringent conservatives.

          Honestly, a lot of the unconscious bias of progressives appears to be akin to the deceit of the Great Books Project, whereby the course of intellectual history is shown to arch in a positive direction from ignorance and superstition until it arrives at me, an urban knowledge worker with a comfortable sinecure in academia or government, with my, ahem, partner, my brownstone, and my after-dinner claret.

          Trump ain’t the only narcissist in da room.

          • “I always attributed this to a remarkable amount of freedom from pragmatic, market-based pressure.”

            This has traditionally been one of the strengths/justifications for academia. Most of us are too consumed with survival (or video games) to have the luxury of contemplation. The academics have the freedom to study, research, and hopefully, impart knowledge (and sometimes wisdom) to their students.

            Back in the late 1980s a popular book by Allen Bloom argued both points. Bloom was a professor of ‘social thought’ at the University of Chicago. The book was ‘The Closing of the American Mind’ (NYT bestseller). First, he argued that universities were becoming (and now many have become) places where ideas and critical thinking were being stifled in favor of political correctness. He also argued that the universities were failing America because they had abandoned the idea of a liberal arts education (emphasizing humanities) and become trade schools, emphasizing STEM.

            He argued, for example, that the universities were producing people capable of performing advanced medical procedures but without the ethical foundations to know IF they SHOULD perform those procedures. He said his grandfather, who walked behind a horse-drawn plow was more ‘educated’ in ‘life’ than many with an MS in computer science. He said his grandfather had all the technical skills he needed to make a living, but since he came home and read his Bible every night he had more knowledge and wisdom ‘for living’.

            • “political correctness” is a red herring. You will always have a baseline orthodoxy in education – see how far you would have gotten in the Jim Crow South arguing in their academia for equality and integration. Now, the vocational vs. critical thinking gap – there we might be on to something.

              • Burro (Mule) says

                Every magisterium wants to shake the keys in your face. Immature religions want to proceed directly to the anathema without offering absolution.

                • Christiane says

                  send five seasoned teaching nuns to kick tail in any school with discipline problems and its all over for the culprits – the nuns don’t play

                  plus the staff learns to teach the basics first thoroughly, and review, and review

                  without discipline and solid groundings in basic skills, our schools hands are tied

                • It has yet to be proven that most of those in the spotlight *want* absolution.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            whereby the course of intellectual history is shown to arch in a positive direction from ignorance and superstition until it arrives at me, an urban knowledge worker with a comfortable sinecure in academia or government

            “The Victorians thought that history ended well — because it ended with the Victorians.”
            — G.K.Chesterton (a Victorian himself)

        • Open-minded, as long as you see things there way.

          In other words, hypocrisy abounds at universities.

          • Their way, not “there way.”

            • Like I said, there’s always going to be a “right way”. The question is what criteria we used to determine it, and how correct it is.

              • The bigger question is are we going to allow discussion from dissenting view points.

                • Not if the dissenting viewpoint is Holocaust denial, or something similar. I wouldn’t undertake dialogue with a Holocaust denier; I would only deny his denial.

                  • Yeah, I’m with you, Robert F. I’ll discuss topics with just about anyone, even touchy topics. But Holocaust deniers, Sandy Hook deniers… these kinds of people have let their brains go to places I don’t think I would ever want to dialog with. QAnon folks would probably fall into that camp, too.

    • I know this fits into this discussion, just not sure how.

      https://www.wadeburleson.org/2020/05/nikola-tesla-and-common-good-in-year.html

      But if this is how we of faith, or our “leaders”, treat facts what hope is there?

      • Just to toss a bit more in:

        Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating appointed Burleson to the northwest Oklahoma Higher Education Program Board[4] where he was instrumental in establishing the Northwestern Oklahoma State University’s campus in Enid, Oklahoma.

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wade_Burleson

        • Mike the Geologist says

          Sorry, CM, that comment was too personal. And it was remarkably free of any facts…

          • If you’re referring to my comment I didn’t realize how IN YOUR FACE the bold would look. I should have used the blockquote tag to indicate it came from the wikipedia article.

          • Mike,

            I see. You can delete if you want. But I stand by my comments. By the way, here is a fact:

            I quote from David L’s linked article he provided at Wade’s site:

            “During the 20th-century, the US government only federally funded scientific laboratories that accepted “the establishment position” of Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.”

            :Einstein’s theory, never proven scientifically, makes Tesla’s proposal of free electricity impossible in theory

            Some people like myself and others disputed that and pointed out to experiments confirming The Theory of Relativity like the LIGO observations of gravitational lensing and the Eddington Experiment (see links):

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eddington_experiment

            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_observation_of_gravitational_waves

            But Wade, the self-proclaimed physics expert would hear none of it. Instead he went on rant about he is defending liberty and protecting against the bullies in academia and the elites.

            Tell me Mike, how would you feel if a pastor like Wade was claiming that Plate Tectonics doesn’t exist or Walther’s Law of stratigraphy is invalid or the Law of Superposition doesn’t exist?

            I suggest you read the linked article David L provided and the comments by his fanboys and make your own conclusions.

      • David Greene says

        Not to mention what the “Powers That Be” did with the 200 mpg carburetor that runs on water.

        • My brother-in-law knows the guy who invented that and he told him about watching the bulldozer destroy it in the street!

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy conspiracy…

  4. We look at ‘backward’ thinking people who believe that the spirits of their deceased relatives live in trees and alligators and other animals, who believe the sun to be a living spirit, or who go to war over some menial infraction of protocol that insults the spirits of their ancestors and we pity them for their irrationality. But we feel the slightest twinge of ominous possibility on Friday the 13th. We say, “God bless you” when someone sneezes. We “knock on wood” should, God forbid, some terrible fate work it’s way into our lives. Some of us wear the same sports jersey and sit on the same spot on the couch with the volume at the same level to insure a win. Even though our team loses we repeat the same irrational behavior once they are on a roll again. Black cats. Cracks in the sidewalk. On and on. Outside observers would assume we believe the spirits of our dead live in trees. Why wouldn’t they? For all our progress and sophistication we are still subject to ancient thinking so it’s not surprising that we have the ability to ignore factual data on a whim. Irrationality is actually a necessity for life. Imagination is certainly not “rational”. Faith could be considered the ultimate form of ancient thinking. Seeing the unseen. Without that ability we are no longer human. Irrationality is essential to the human condition to see beyond the obvious. The problem occurs when we employ that capacity inaccurately. As Ecclesiasties reminds us, there is a time for everything under the sun.

    • Burro (Mule) says

      Father Stephen Freeman once made a remark that he could tell when a convert’s Orthodoxy was taking hold when their family and friends started commenting that they were becoming “superstitious”.

      • Makes sense. We talk about the workings of the spirit which I sure sounds quite odd.

      • “I’m not superstitious, but I am just a little stitious.” -Michael Scott

      • I began my early years infused with superstition. At this point in life I could not become Eastern Orthodox though there are many things within the Tradition I appreciate. What I do not appreciate is EO’s hyper-contextualization within Eastern European cultures. It feels about like asking me, born in San Francisco, raised in Phoenix, grew old in Arkansas, and now ageing out in NE Tennessee–to become an Eastern European Hasidim. Sorry.

        Richard Halverson waxed eloquent on the tendency to over-contextualize saying, “When the Greeks got the gospel, they turned it into a philosophy; when the Romans got it, they turned it into a government; when the Europeans got it, they turned it into a culture; and when the Americans got it, they turned it into a business.”

    • Good comment, Chris.

    • I’m not sure how this topic can be broached without this playing in the background…

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0CFuCYNx-1g

  5. –> “Sorry for this late and incomplete posting, friends. I just couldn’t find a science and faith article that sparked my interest, and I just couldn’t find the mental energy to dig in to something. This article from Scientific American will have to do.”

    Pretty good post, Mike the Geo! Don’t sell yourself short!

  6. Christiane says

    I agree, MIKE-THE-GEOLOGIST,
    your topic is very worthwhile.

    We have become a divided country where almost half rely on the likes of Rush Limbaugh and now the creators of ‘conspiracy theories’ sourced out of Russia and someplace or persons called Qanon.

    I don’t think a university education is skewed left or right. I think it helps people to learn to search out information from different sources and to process it through their OWN heads, in short, the kind of education that helps people do their own thinking AND WANT THIS FOR OTHERS WHO ARE TRAPPED IN ‘BUBBLES’ and isolated from the ideas of others.

    I think university education offers people a chance to learn how OTHERS think, and an opportunity to examine the new ideas, to converse with others, to question others, and to integrate new knowledge into their own understanding of what makes sense in the real world;
    and yet a university education does not close the door on the arts, music, our poets, the classic myths, the sagas of old, archeology, anthropology, and social systems;
    and yes, the professions

    we got a trump from the likes of Rush Limbaugh and the radical extreme right wing of them that wants to destruct our norms

    what we get from people who do their OWN thinking may not be ‘perfect’ but they will have a better chance to decide FOR THEMSELVES what makes sense and that that comes from getting a good education that allows for openness to many disciplines, to the humanities and the arts, to be able to sort out a trump from someone who is wanting everyone to have a voice and to be understood in the way that they intended. The diffference? As far as the East is to the West. Putin may charm some in our far right but not the ones who know about the history of the KGB. And the ‘camps’ for hispanic infants and toddlers? Big difference in those who learned of this inhumanity and chose to remain silent and those who stood up for the littles in their suffering.

    thanks for letting me rant, but I don’t feel any better writing this as problems will remain – seeded hatred will stir up the whirl-wind, and we will all partake of the bitterness
    – if we lose hope in the goodness of people, we betray those like Anne Frank who perished from hate but whose voice still lives in this world so we must honor her hope of the goodness of people ‘in spite of everything’, or we will contribute to the loss of her memory as a blessing and I won’t do that willingly, no.

    God have mercy on us all.

    • Tom Parker says

      But they are “Liberal Arts Colleges”–they all must be “Liberals.” just kidding, but for some that is exactly what they think.

      I’d rather have a Liberal education than just a conservative education. I think the humanities are very important. My faith should not be so weak that I can not listen to different ideas.

      • The US was founded on the radical ideas of Modern Liberalism. The past 4 years are making me feel that the country is plunging headlong into the ‘Murican chittlin’s of the Church of Christ-ism of my youth.