This from a review of Michael Sherman’s book “The Believing Brain”, which synthesizes 30 years of science on the topic of why we believe what we do in all aspects of our lives.
The whole review is really quite juicy.
“…The brain is a belief engine. It relies on two processes: patternicity and agenticity. It finds meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless data. It infuses patterns with meaning, and imagines intention and agency in inanimate objects and chance occurrences. We believe before we reason. Once beliefs are formed, we seek out confirmatory arguments and evidence to justify them. We ignore contrary evidence or make up rationalizations to explain it away. We do not like to admit we are wrong. We seldom change our minds.
Our thinking is what Morgan Levy has called “intelligently illogical.” If our ancestors assumed that the wind rustling the bushes was a lion and they ran away, that wasn’t a big problem. If there really was a lion and they didn’t run away, they were in trouble. Natural selection favors strategies that make many false causal assumptions in order to not miss the true ones that are essential to survival. Superstition and magical thinking are natural processes of a learning brain. People believe weird things because of our evolved need to believe nonweird things…”
three lessons from the book are:
• Beliefs come first, reasons follow.
• False beliefs arise from the same thought processes that our brains evolved to enable them to learn about the world.
• Our faulty thinking mechanisms can’t be eliminated but our errors can be corrected by science.