Not so fast, there, smarty pants

We may as well face it. People are hard-wired for dumbness.

At least, there’s evidence along those lines, according to an article on FactCheck.org: Cognitive Science and FactCheck.org, or Why We (Still) Do What We Do

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Virginia Tech psychologist Kimberlee Weaver shows that the more easily we recall something the more likely we are to think of it as being true. It’s a useful shortcut since, typically, easily recalled information really is true. But combine this rule with the brain’s tendency to better remember bits of information that are repeated frequently, and we can run into trouble: We’re likely to believe anything we hear repeated frequently enough. At FactCheck.org we’ve noted how political spin-masters exploit this tendency ruthlessly, repeating dubious or false claims endlessly until, in the minds of many voters, they become true. Making matters worse, a study by Hebrew University’s Mayo shows that people often forget “denial tags.” Thus many people who hear the phrase “Iraq does not possess WMDs” will remember “Iraq” and “possess WMDs” while forgetting the “does not” part.

So much of what comes out of the White House since — well, this whole century so far, can be explained in this light. It’s the same thing a common criminal does when he’s arrested. He keep repeating “I didn’t do nothing” and hoping it will stick because the facts don’t support his assertion.

Facts are essential if we are to overcome our brain’s tendency to believe everything it hears. As a species, we’re still pretty new to that whole process. Aristotle invented logic just 2,500 years ago – a mere blink of the eye when compared with the 200,000 years we Homo sapiens relied on our brain’s reflex responses to avoid being eaten by lions. We still have a long way to go.

When you pick out something as an example of how smart people can be, you best bet is an example from science and technology. Something that’s a direct result of evidence-based scientific method, which in turn comes from the use of logic and reason.

I’m always nagging myself to keep up the hard work of staying skeptical. I feel like I have to because my natural tendency is toward total gullibility. In particular, I have a hard time picking up the cues that someone is BSing me, even when it’s obvious to everybody else.  I still think I might not bewired up quite the same way most people are, but maybe I’m not as far off the norm as I fear.

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