It is said that, reasonable-seeming people are often totally irrational. Would you agree? And, how did we come to be this way, anyway?
In the book, “The Enigma of Reason”, cognitive scientists Hugo Mercier and Dan Sperber point out that reason is an evolved trait. Reason has become the hyper-social man’s way of adaptation as everything around him continues to evolve.
It is important to note that compared to the other species, humans have the biggest advantage with their ability to cooperate. Cooperation is hard to establish and is equally difficult to sustain. Hence, reason is not developed to enable humans to solve logical or abstract problems or to help the man create conclusions from data that were unfamiliar; instead it is developed to resolve problems that commonly exist in collaborative groups.
Why Facts Won’t Necessarily Change the Human Minds?
The Confirmation Bias
Confirmation bias is the tendency for humans to be selective in embracing only the information that supports their personal beliefs and rejects the information they deemed as contradicting to their perspectives. Confirmation bias may lead people to dismiss or disprove evidence of new or less acknowledged threats.
But the same cognitive scientists Mercier and Sperber prefer to call it “myside bias”, pointing out that humans are not randomly credulous or naïve. Oftentimes, when we are confronted with someone else’s argument, we are adept to singling out their weakness.
Sociability and the Human Minds
Interestingly though, humans tend to bend their own reasons in order to avoid getting screwed by the other group members. But this may not be surprising at all considering how our ancestors used to be concerned about their social standing to have the better chance at survival. Simply put, humans found that reasoning clearly is of little advantage compared to gaining more by winning arguments. This further supports that somehow sociability is the key to how the human mind’s function.
The Illusion of Explanatory Depth
Steven Sloman and Philip Fernbach, who are both professors and cognitive scientists also have their own theory which they called as the illusion of explanatory depth. This refers to humans’ belief that they know way more than they actually do, when what allows them to persist in that belief is other people. This is drawn from the fact that from the time men learned to hunt, humans have been relying on one another’s expertise to thrive. We are thriving well in collaboration with others to the extent that we can hardly tell where our very own understanding ends and just about where other’s begins.
How Science Tends to Correct People’s Natural Inclinations on Reasoning
With varying views and perceptions, it would have been easy for a field to be dominated by squabbles. But essentially science has become a system that corrects for people’s innate inclinations. In science, methodology prevails.
In “Denying to the Grave: Why We Ignore the Facts That Will Save Us”, psychiatrist Jack Gorman and his daughter and public-health specialist Sara Gorman probe the gap between what science tells us and what we tell ourselves. They found that oftentimes, providing people with the right information don’t seem to help and appealing to their emotions may work better. They also added that the remaining challenge is basically on how to deal with the tendencies that can lead to false scientific beliefs.