Tag Archives: cognitive dissonance

Being Wrong is Alright

21 Jul

by Benjamen Johnson

Part of being a skeptic is learning to admit you’re wrong. This can be a hard thing to do when everything else in your being rebels against the rational side of your brain — it just  doesn’t come naturally. Coupled with a society where hardly anybody ever publicly admits to being wrong because they are afraid it’ll cost them their job, family, political career, or even open them up a lawsuit, makes admitting you’re wrong that much more difficult.

Yet admitting and owning up to being wrong is a important process, it is one of the processes that makes skepticism so powerful. When is the last time you heard a true believer say he was wrong, without some sort of qualification like special pleading or moving the goalposts?

I’ll admit I’ve been spectacularly wrong on many occasions. To name a few, I was a global climate change denier, I was fooled by the anti-vaxer “too many too soon” argument, and I bought several wackaloon theories about ancient peoples being much more advanced much earlier than archaeologists said they were.

What were some of the reasons it was hard to admit I was wrong on these positions?

  • It disturbed my world view
  • It would effect what I was already doing or make me do something I didn’t want to do.
  • The truth conflicted with what my friends and family believe
  • I was suffering cognitive dissonance — ignoring evidence that did not fit my views

Let’s take the too many too soon argument. After my daughter was born, we got a list of the shots she would be receiving and each which visit. Carefully going through the list, I was somewhat surprised at the number. I just couldn’t see how sticking a kid with a needle that many times could be healthy for them. Many of the immunizations I agreed with, but I remember the Varicella (Chicken Pox) and Hepatitis B vaccines stood out as two unnecessary ones. The chicken pox vaccine especially flustered me. I remember telling my wife that we both had Chicken Pox, there’s nothing wrong with a kid getting Chicken Pox, it’s part of being a kid.

Of course my bias affected how I researched the topic. I found sources that backed my predetermined opinion and disregarded the sources that conflicted it. So what made me change my mind? It wasn’t an immediate change, in fact we continued with the vaccination schedule as laid out by the clinic, because I begrudgingly deferred to my wife’s judgment and just didn’t feel like fighting the system. As time passed I became less emotionally attached to the opinion and the conflicting arguments started to make headway into my brain.

What’s important is that I now freely admit I was wrong so I can learn from the experience. By examining the reasons I was wrong, I have tools to evaluate other aspects of my life where I’ve been less than skeptical. Being wrong yourself also helps you learn to become more sympathetic with other people who hold non-scientific beliefs. You realize that if you can make mistakes or be sucked into plausible sounding pseudo-science that anybody can.

Creationist Snark …Or Brilliant Plan?

30 May
Melissa Lee (a.k.a. LilaMae)

by Melissa Lee (a.k.a. LilaMae)

I’m completely baffled at why creationists have to say the world is 6000 years old when there’s such a simple and elegant means of eliminating this interminable conflict they have with reality.

I grew up Catholic. Which means I had no problem with cognitive dissonance, of course. But I remember distinctively the first time I watched Inherit The Wind and the scene in which Spencer Tracy’s character explains to a creationist that the first “day” (as mentioned in Genesis) could have been any length of time not necessarily 24 hours – because there was no sun yet. Indeed it could have been a few billion years.

Works for me. Bam. Done. What’s for dinner?

Makes perfect sense to me. Creationists could easily just let it go there but nooooo, that doesn’t do it for them. Well, could someone please put a goddamn asterisk footnote in Genesis from now on in future bible printings:

“…and on the first *day God created…”
*the term “day” is misleading here because the sun – the standard measurement for Earth day length – hadn’t been created yet, therefore in all fairness, there’s no reason to think it couldn’t have been, oh….say….4.54 billion years. Now stay the fuck out of science classes!

I think it’ll work. I do. Either that or we just paint a giant tunnel on the side of a mountain with the sign above it that says “Heaven”.

Cognitive dissonance. Why you no haz it?