Michio Kaku talks with Michael Shermer about "The Believing Brain"
There's a great audio clip online of Michio Kaku interviewing Michael Shermer about his new book, The Believing Brain. They generally keep the topic in the realms of conspiracy theories, psychics, etc., but there's no reason this thought process can't be applied to religious beliefs as well, as Michael Shermer often does. It's only about 10 minutes long (and it cuts off) so I won't bother rehashing every detail, but here are some of my thoughts on a few of Shermer's points:
- We're evolved to make positive pattern-recognition errors, because making negative pattern-recognition errors is potentially detrimental to our survival – i.e., it's better to assume the movement in the brush is a predator and run than to assume it's the wind and get eaten.
- Science requires us to account for all available information – not just select that which is favorable to our preconceptions. Generally, we tend toward confirmation bias – selectively filtering information so that we only acknowledge that which reinforces our presuppositions. Examining all the data, as science requires us to do, is very counter-intuitive.
- Smart people are just as likely as dullards to make emotional, irrational beliefs – but smart people are much better at rationalizing their beliefs. Shermer gives the example of Francis Collins' rather silly belief that a trio of frozen waterfalls he happened upon was not just a neat natural phenomenon, but a personal message from God representing the Christian trinity.
- We tend to arrive at beliefs first, then conjure up rationalizations later. No one will say something like, "I'm a Christian because my friends were into the church", or acknowledge that confirmation bias might have prevented them from making a fully rational assessment of supposedly "spiritual" experiences – they'll tell you that they arrived at their beliefs for perfectly rational reasons.