Our Capacious Capacity For Self-Delusion

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Human beings are capable of astounding feats: Verdi's Requiem¹, the moon landing, discovering the Higg's boson⁵, and so on. But for all our incredible achievements, we still are hopelessly enslaved by superstition and logical cul-de-sacs. Our brains still favor prejudice over reason. I could go into the Monty Hall ("Let's Make a Deal") problem² which seems to be hard wired into our brain, wrongly, but I fear it would derail the discussion and send us down a route that, while fruitful, is nevertheless tangential to the point. 


Why do human beings believe in idiotic bullshit? Why are we biologically programmed to believe in it? There has to be an evolutionary reason for it otherwise it would not be so. Knowing perfectly well that turtles all the way down is fanciful, we choose to hand down mythical metaphors from generation to generation.


At the time of this writing there are 7,515,284,153 homo saps on the planet, and better than 90% of them believe in some 'tarded bullshit. From zombie Jesus to Ganesh avatars to UFO space saviors. We know better. I'm somewhat certain of that. But less certain than I am that there is something about the act of "faith" that is corrosive to reason, i.e., that fundamentally undermines it. Which is probably why you continually hear so-called "spiritual" people³ talk about the importance of faith. How nothing else will do.


P.S. Please give generously! [God loves you. But He needs money.]


"When it comes to bullshit, big-time major-league bullshit, you have to stand in awe, in awe, of the all-time champion of false promises and exaggerated claims...religion. No contest."

—George Carlin



1. Grand theatre, but not supassing Mozart's Requiem in magnificence.⁴

2. The Monty Hall problem is a brain teaser, in the form of a probability exercise. After the problem appeared in Parade, approximately 10,000 readers, including nearly 1,000 with PhDs, wrote to the magazine, most of them claiming vos Savant was wrong. In fact, they were wrong. But they stuck to their guns. No joke. Fist fights broke out among mathematics professors. Seriously. And still do

3. "I'm not religious, I'm spiritual." Have you ever had to endure this line of new age drivel bullshit over a Manhattan? I commiserate. Waiter. Double please.

4. Has the mongrel, tattooed "jungle culture" ever given us anything remotely close in terms of pure grandeur and moral elevation? No! I think is the one and only correct answer. Has the tatted up, impregnated, stroller-pushing thugs at the local mall done ANYTHING to advance human civilization? See answer above.

5. Not captured is collective gasp when he put the first slide up. They (the audience) knew what it meant.



David Marino Added Mar 19, 2017 - 12:12am
This is a really good question, and one that has been debate for centuries.  There is no right answer to this question, nor is there a definitive one.  The old saying "you can't prove a negative" certainly applies.   Prove God does or doesn't exist will find you in one heck of a debate.  Even the great Carl Sagan didn't dispute the possibility of a supreme being, and as Ellie Arrow at answered when asked if there really are other being out there in the universe, she replied that it would be an awful waste of space if there weren't. If a tree falls in the forest with nobody around does it still make a sound?  That's the most basic philosophy question there is, and the answer is yes, there are just two types of sound one must take into consideration:  the compression waves of air, and how the brain interprets those waves.  Ultimately, though, it's still open for interpretation.
Jeffry Gilbert Added Mar 19, 2017 - 5:33am
Another delusion is the idea more laws will make us safer and freer. 
Stone-Eater Friedli afronum Added Mar 19, 2017 - 5:44am
Why bother ? Let people believe in illogical fairytales if they want to. It's enough you know better ;-)
Bill Kamps Added Mar 19, 2017 - 6:36am
There is an interesting book "Thinking Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman ( Nobel Prize Winner ) and others, that describes how our brain fools us, where our initial reaction to things is often wrong.  While it does not completely explain why we believe BS, it does explain why our brain reaches wrong conclusions when we first react to information and stimulus. 
The book does a nice job explaining how we make snap judgements based on what we see, or hear, these snap judgements are often wrong.  I think there is some combination of this, plus a bias towards believing "experts" that makes us believe what academics, and politicians say.  While we know what comes out of a politicians mouth is likely to at least be wrong, if not a lie, we often WANT to believe what they say, because they are saying what we want to hear. 
Jeffry's statement about the delusion, "more laws make us safer and more free", is just another way of saying that we want someone else to solve the problem and make the worry go away.  It doesnt of course. 
Bill Kamps Added Mar 19, 2017 - 7:16am
I think a related problem is the different reaction we have to big crashes vs small crashes.   In the US 100 people a day die from car crashes, extending it worldwide, possibly 300 a day die ( or more ) from car crashes or 10,000 a month.  We dont do much about this, and it is accepted as normal.  However, if one plane a month crashed, killing 200, we would ground all the planes until something was done.
So 10,000 small crashes a month are ignored, while one big one will cause us to take drastic action.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:06am
I look upon "God" with the same impartiality that he looks upon fish in a fish tank.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:27am
@Bill Kamps. Good comments.
Dino Manalis Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:45am
Religion gives us hope and endurance, science and money can't solve all our problems.  People need constant encouragement and support.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:53am
@Dino. This chaostrophy of glass and concrete and steel. Why?
What fucking purpose does it serve?
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 8:58am
Bill Kamps Added Mar 19, 2017 - 9:15am
What is interesting is that there is a lot of bias in our ways of thinking, and these bias seemed to be hard wired into humans.  That is because the work of DK shows that it cuts across cultures, and is very consistent.  People of different backgrounds, and education make the same types of mistakes.
What politicians exploit these decision making bias we often get poor policy that the masses initially buy  into.
The phrase "i want to sleep on it" is not just an old wives tale, it has a connection in science, because sleeping is when the brain "rewires" its connections to assimilate what it has learned.  That is why we often wake up with a new perspective on things.
Humans also have this ability to hold contradictory facts, or goals in their brains simultaneously.  A simplistic example is the desire both for more government benefits, and lower personal taxes.  While being on the political left or right may change the type of benefit someone wants, most people want more of something from the government, whether it be defense spending, corporate welfare, better health care, etc.  At the same time they dont want to spend more on taxes to pay for it, and in fact seem not to connect the taxes and the benefits they want.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 9:22am
@Jeffrey Gilbert: "Another delusion is the idea more laws will make us safer and freer. "
Indeed. The whole shithouse is going to burn down anyway.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 9:27am
 I like your mode of thinking.
Leroy Added Mar 19, 2017 - 10:17am
That's a very interesting and timely article.  I am working on a similar article.
The Monty Hall problem is an interesting one and it's difficult to get my head around, but, you can't argue with the facts.  It is very easy to prove using empirical means available on the web.  I saw a VSauce youtube on it recently that put it into graphic terms that helps one understand.  For those who have never seen the Monty Hall game show, there was a prize behind one of three doors.  You had to guess which door it was behind.  But, before opening your door, Monty also tempted you to change doors by showing you the contents behind one of the doors without a prize.  So, at that point, you knew the prize was either behind the door of your original choice or behind the other.  Are you better off changing or sticking to your selection?  Intuitively, there is an equal chance to each door.  However, your intuition would be wrong.  Statistically, you are always better off changing.  Argue all you want, but if you believe otherwise, you are wrong.
I inherited rental property.  My father kept meticulous records.  A young woman claimed to have paid her rent when she did not.  Her parents came to her rescue pinpointing the day and time they took her to pay the rent.  They were sure of the date because it coincided with an event at the church.  As soon as it was over, they drove her to my father's house and paid my father personally while he was in his favorite recliner.  They had a precise date and time.  I gave them every opportunity to correct their story.  If they came up with a good story, I would have been forced to give them a benefit of a doubt.  After telling them my father had passed away three weeks earlier and referenced his obituary in the local paper, they still stuck to their story and refused to pay rent.   They stuck to their beliefs in spite of the irrefutable fact my father had passed on.  I don't believe they were lying when they continued to insist that they paid him on that date.  They simply could not accept the fact that they could be wrong.
The Other Side Added Mar 19, 2017 - 10:34am
"Argue all you want, but if you believe otherwise, you are wrong."
George N Romey Added Mar 19, 2017 - 1:15pm
As a boss once told me "always remember most people are stupid.:
David Marino Added Mar 19, 2017 - 4:18pm
The Mythbusters did a show on the Monty Hall paradox.  It was fascinating.
Q. Added Mar 20, 2017 - 3:07am
This is quite an old issue, and, the way I see it it shouldn’t be since the power of logical processing and the power of having absolutely illogical ideas (yes I do see them both as powers) are an essential part of what makes us, well…. us.
We, as humans are capable of such fantastic feats like Mozart’s”Requiem” (I prefer it to Verdi’s) , “the moon landings or discovering the Higg’s boson” exactly because we are also “ hopelessly enslaved by superstition and logical cul-de-sacs.” (Or vice versa)
I think I was in the first year of University when a professor came up with this subject. Never really thought of it before so I sat back and listened to the lecture and the following discussion. After a bit more than an hour- it dawned on me that all the participants, as well as the people they were quoting were missing a crucial point- that all of these phenomena, Art, science, superstition, religion do have one, very important, thread that connects them all-creative thinking! None of those feats would be possible if we, as Humans, did not have the ability to think outside of that proverbial box.
It does sound counter-intuitive, but it takes as much- sometimes even more of pure, wild, out-of-the-box kind of imagination in order to come up with a solution to a purely mathematical problem as it would take to , let’s say, come up with a bridge connecting the chorus with the rhythmical part of a song you are writing… actually, it just struck me, most of the greatest brains of our times were of weirdly, and strongly superstitious and/or spiritual/religious nature.
Most of us, today find the fact that Sir Isaac Newton was trying to find physical proof of God’s existence weird, to say the least. WE can not comprehend how and why did Young get so obsessed with para-psychology or why was Jack Parsons (The guy who founded NASA one the the best rocket scientists of all times such a high ranking and active member in Crowley’s temple.
I am not saying I understanding the exact, evolutionary reason for these two- superficially so different phenomena to be so intertwined but there seems to be one. At times it appears to me that our power of logical processing, - would have been of absolutely no use to us if there wasn’t for that creative element, which, in turn, is both one of the most beautiful and one the ugliest aspects of being Human.
David Marino Added Mar 20, 2017 - 3:19am
Imagination, and not intelligence, is what helps us create the future.  Without imagination, we cannot think of the possibilities that our science helps us understand.  One could argue that it is our quest to know, understand, and be like the God we have imagined for a couple of millenia that has brought us to where we are now.  I think I mentioned it before: Carl Sagan understood that there does not have to be a battle between science and religion and faith.  It was his contention that all of our scientific endeavors and discoveries may one day prove that God has to exist, or even does.  Then again, it might not, or even disprove it.  
Mircea Negres Added Mar 21, 2017 - 4:44am
Religions often present adherents and prospects with contradictory or implausible events which they then demand that people believe. When confronted with such things, many will say "I don't believe it" because what they're told makes no sense. The self-righteous and often self-deluded say "you have no faith, there's something wrong with you". The commander of a POW camp brings two POWs in front of their leader and announces that either the leader chooses one to be shot or the commander will shoot both of them, while laying the consequences on the leader's head. Much like the religious example, this is a tactic designed to break down the individual's resistance and gain control over his mind, because in truth the death or deaths will be the fault of the camp commander. Freedom lies in knowing and living according to the demonstrable validity of truth- anything else is just mind control aimed at creating slaves.
David Marino Added Mar 21, 2017 - 5:13am
Responsibility and faith are two different things, though.  People who believe in a supreme being don't just blindly follow in many cases.  Like the man in the flood joke, they don't truly believe that God personally will rescue them, they believe that God sent those apparatuses by guiding those people to them.  In my understanding of the god/science debate, there is an inherent and unspoken belief that, if God doesn't want us to learn about and understand something, then no matter what we do, we will never understand or know that something.  Right now we don't have the capabilities to understand the true origin of the universe, as an example, but maybe someday we will...then again, maybe despite all of our best efforts and understandings, we will never be able to.
Louis E Weeks Added Mar 21, 2017 - 9:16am
Well outside of the obvious attempt to insult most of the Earth's population, something I get a big laugh out of every time I see someone do that, the other points are interesting discussion and as Q and David pointed out already, without the imagination and creative side of human beings, we would not have progresses as far as we have at this point even in science.
If you had no capacity to consider things that are as yet unknown, then you have no progress.  Without the capacity to imagine things that are not there, we would have never left the stone age.
The things that make life special are things you can't measure.  Love, children, family, sunsets and beautiful music, etc.  Being able to add 1 + 1 and produce the answer of 2 is something a computer can do, but being moved emotionally by a painting is not, and that emotional side is what it means to be human.
The Other Side Added Mar 25, 2017 - 5:43am
I didn't say sunsets and kitty cats weren't special. I simply said that as humans we believe in a lot of stupid bullshit. 
The Other Side Added Mar 25, 2017 - 5:48am
"without the imagination and creative side of human beings, we would not have progresses as far as we have at this point even in science."
If someone proposed that the universe has no beginning, or is eternal, or that we live in an Everett Multi-world universe, I would not bat an eye. Because those theories are ALL compatible with quantum mechanics and physics. I don't even mind the Ganesh avatar. I think it's fanciful and adds life to the party. That's one thing you can say about the Hindus. At least they are fun and know how to throw a party. But a lot of the dreck makes me nauseous. This place just gives me a forum to vent from time to time.
David Marino Added Mar 25, 2017 - 11:55pm
It is a good debate to try to further our understanding of the human condition.  Too many people today have to be right all the time, and so having a debate where there are no definitive correct answers is a much more fun and useful way to spend time, rather than debate ideas with someone who believes their answer or way of thinking is the only and correct way of thinking.