What to Believe


Evidence proof background concept

We all believe many things without much evidence. Most cat lovers believe their cats actually know who they are and would notice or care if they were suddenly replaced by other humans who could operate a can opener. Many dog lovers believe their dogs are almost smart enough to understand the family finances. In the case of border collies this belief isn’t so outrageous.  More than a few people believe that economists know what they’re talking about. An economist I know once confided in me that the economists’ slogan is “To err is human; to get paid for it is divine.”

Probably a majority of upper-class white Americans believe the world is basically fair.  A number—though one hopes a small number– of white Americans believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya and is a socialist. On both ends of the political spectrum you can find Americans, and probably even some Canadians, who believe that 9/11 was an inside job. They call themselves “9/11 Truthers.” Not to be outdone, some in France have been convinced by Thierry Meyssan’s book L’Effroyable imposture (9/11: The Big Lie) that the attacks of 9/11 never happened. Fortunately, very few Americans believe that any Frenchman knows what he’s talking about.

Not a few innocents believe that their chances of winning a lottery are significantly better if they buy a ticket than if they don’t. The same poor schmucks believe that if you repeatedly flip a coin and it comes up heads five times in a row, the chance of it coming up tails on the next flip is much greater than fifty percent. Lottery players are especially prone to the belief that lightening never strikes twice in the same place. It’s not true.  In fact your chances of getting hit twice by lightening are generally better than your chances of winning the lottery

Far more than 10 % of the population believe that we use only 10% of our brains. That’s a very attractive belief because it means that if we can somehow start to use 100% of our brains, we won’t believe so many stupid things, but alas, the idea that we use only 10% of our brains is one of the stupid things we believe.

The myth that hair and nails continue to grow after death is widely believed. Johnny Carson supposedly believed it but acknowledged that telephone calls taper off.

Many who have died of salmonella poisoning believed that food you drop on the floor is safe to eat if you pick it up in five seconds.

Especially those who think of themselves as creative believe that they are right brain dominant, while those who fail to recognize their creativity are left brain dominant, making them logical but colourless drones. But evidence—that bugbear of the highly creative—provided by brain scans has shown conclusively that both hemispheres of our brains are equally active in logical and creative activities.

Elderly people looking to improve their cognitive functioning often believe that the phrase “clinically proven to be effective” that appears in ads for brain exercises actually means that anything has been proven.

Conspiracy-minded folks on the right believe that climate change is a liberal hoax, and conspiracy-minded folks on the left believe that GMOs are an evil creation of Big Ag.  A majority of scientists believe both of them are nuts.

4 thoughts on “What to Believe

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