Endless Curiosity

October 24, 2009

Belief

Filed under: The Brain — Alec @ 8:41 am

Belief is a fascinating thing. We believe things that to others are incomprehensible. We believe things with no evidence. We continue to believe things even when the facts say that we are wrong. The problem is that our brains have an old primitive part which works quickly and largely unconsciously, and a new, deliberative part that is slower and takes more effort to use.

Gary Marcus describes various aspects to our belief system that he calls contamination of belief (the focusing illusion, the halo effect, anchoring, the familiarity effect), confirmation bias, and motivated reasoning. With this many flaws/idiosyncrasies, it’s remarkable that we are able to act rationally. What? We don’t? Oh, that’s right. Okay, it’s remarkable that we are able to believe we are rational, but then, that just goes to show one of the idiosyncrasies of our belief system.

As Marcus says on page 53 of Kluge,

Even more pernicious is the fact that as evolution layered reason on top of contextually driven memory, it left us with the illusion of objectivity. Evolution gave us the tools to deliberate and reason, but it didn’t give us any guarantee that we’d be able to use them without interference. We feel as if our beliefs are based on cold, hard facts, but often they are shaped by our ancestral system in subtle ways that we are not even aware of.

In future posts I’ll give examples of the different aspects of our belief system.

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