On Belief

Off the keyboards of Geoffrey Chia & Rebecca Willis

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Published on the Doomstead Diner on April 15, 2015

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ON THE NATURE OF BELIEF or:

Why do people believe what they believe (or claim to believe) ?

G. Chia & R. Willis April 2015

INTRODUCTION

In our previous essay, Thinking about thinking we described the characteristics of dysfunctional (or unhealthy) and eufunctional (or healthy) thinking. We dispensed with the notion of “normal” thinking, because this term is essentially meaningless and unhelpful. If normal thinking is defined as the mode of thought adopted by the majority of a population, it is possible, indeed common, for “normal” thinking to be utterly dysfunctional and destructive, as shown by the many examples of mass delusions leading to chaos and warfare not only in history, but in our present day. As such, it may actually be a very bad thing to be “normal”, to run with the herd. We previously described the techniques by which the media, corporations and governments systematically exploit the infantile and reptilian aspects of our brains to impose particular views and values on the masses who lack the faculties of critical thinking. It turns out you can actually fool most of the people all of the time. Such social manipulation leads to the perversion of democracy.

Seminal publications such as “Irrationality” by Stuart Sutherland and “Bad Science” by Ben Goldacre have elucidated the mechanisms of flawed thinking and the tactics of pseudoscientific fraud in detail. Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway wrote the landmark book “The Merchants of Doubt” which described the origins of systematic global warming denialism, perpetrated by a few so-called “free” market ideologues funded by billionaire fossil fuel oligarchs. Notwithstanding her outstanding research and scholarship, Oreskes in this podcast interview

https://soundcloud.com/inquiringminds/43-naomi-oreskes-the-collapse-of-western-civilization/sets

could not fully explain why such blatantly fraudulent denial continues to be so readily accepted by large sections of society. She criticises the scientists for not being more forceful in opposition to such deceit.

The “new Atheists” such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris were active some years ago in debunking the nonsensical foundations for supernatural religious myths. They too did not provide a comprehensive explanation as to why many if not most members of society are unwilling or unable to shed the brain virus of religion (apart from stating that innate obedience to authority by children has historical survival value).

In this essay we assess the nature of human beliefs and try to explain the “stickiness” of nonsensical ideas which may have little or nothing to do with reality. The key question is this: what purposes do such false beliefs serve?

Belief refers to the acceptance of, or claimed acceptance of a particular paradigm. In theory, there might be some difference between sincere belief and proclaimed (but insincere) belief, however in practice there is little difference in real world outcomes (see next paragraph). Therefore we will not distinguish between the two for the purposes of this essay. Furthermore as behavioural psychologists assert, it can be difficult if not impossible to determine what is really going on in a person’s mind1. Hence empirical science focuses on measurable actions, deeds and outcomes.

Twenty years ago when most people may not have personally been experiencing the effects of anthropogenic global warming or AGW (apart from seeing photographs of melting glaciers retreating all around the world), it was conceivable that many global warming denialists, unable to comprehend the science, sincerely believed that AGW was not true. Nowadays with exponential changes and extreme weather events occurring all round the world far exceeding the IPCC projections, rendering the fact of AGW indisputable, global warming denialists face a rearguard action. Those who remain intransigent cannot truly believe their position unless they are insane or stupid. Yet they persist in their purported belief that AGW is a hoax. If they are not insane or stupid, we can only conclude that their proclaimed “belief” is insincere and is cynically being used to serve their personal agendas and short term vested interests. Whether a result of stupidity (inability to see the overwhelming evidence for AGW) or mendacity (realising the truth of AGW but refusing to admit it), the outcome is the same, ie opposition to the reduction of GHG emissions, opposition to the adoption of renewable energy initiatives and continuation of business as usual to the point of annihilation.2

A paradigm may be accepted at emotional and/or intellectual levels. Generally, emotion tends to have a much stronger grip over people than intellect. This is because the majority of homo sapiens are not, in fact, sapient, but are driven primarily by their reptile brains. This fact was comprehensively demonstrated by the remarkably effective propaganda campaigns perpetrated by Bernays in the US and Goebbels in Germany, which were described in our previous essay3.

PART 1: THE NINE MAJOR FUNCTIONS OF FALSE BELIEFS

We assert that beliefs should be based on truth. What is truth? It is that paradigm which provides the closest approximation to reality. We know a belief is most likely to be true when it is backed up by evidence and reason, stands up to empirical validation and resists falsifiability. The belief passes the tests of scientific scrutiny, offers the best explanation for the circumstances being investigated and has useful predictive value. We assert that such reality based thinking should be the only valid reason for holding any belief4. All else is speculation or delusion. Unfortunately it appears that reality based thinking may actually be the least common reason for holding beliefs.

Why then do so many supposedly mentally “normal” people subscribe to non-reality based (ie false) beliefs? We assert that many, (probably most) people tend to seek out world views which:

  1. justifiy the pursuit of their self interest
  2. represent the easy option, the path of least resistance, which requires minimal intellectual, social, physical or financial investment or effort on their part. Ideas requiring sacrifice or hard work tend to be rejected.5
  3. cast themselves in a positive light to impress others (especially to gain favourable treatment or special dispensation from others or advantage over others)
  4. cast themselves in a postive light to boost their own egos. They subscribe to self-flattering narratives which elevate their status, which portray themselves as “special” or “exceptional” or “superior to” the rest of humanity and to the rest of creation (ie views which verify their infantile predisposition to believe they are the centre of the universe).
  5. cast others in a negative light to justify the belittlement, ostracism, subjugation, oppression, exploitation and/or murder of “the other”.
  6. cement the bonds of belonging, solidarity and pride within their social group or tribe. This is of important survival value to the individual, because historically, membership to a group or tribe was essential for material sustenance. Expulsion from the group, being left to fend on your own, could lead to death. One useful tool to bond tribal members is that of camaradarie resulting from being part of the same sporting team or fan club. If we regard the Nation as an extended tribe, this can take the form of overt displays of fanatical support for National sports teams or sportsmen. Hence former PM John Howard, despite himself being physically inept and hopelessly uncoordinated, took every opportunity to promote to the public his image as a “cricket tragic”. He even insisted that prospective Australian citizens learned the history of Donald Bradman, no matter that such useless pablum did nothing to educate them about core Australian values such as the Rule of Law, separation of powers, liberal democratic principles and freedom of (responsible) speech.

Tribal solidarity, even if based on imaginary myths (such as the Jews being the “chosen” people of God), has historically been of critical survival value to the group, as the members had to stick together to compete against or defend themselves from other groups.

  1. offer psychological comfort, emotional solace and hope, particularly during difficult times. This is comforting function is exemplified in the famous passage from Psalm 23 of the Bible, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me, thy rod and thy staff they comfort me”. Religion in particular can reassure the believer that “everything will be alright” no matter how dire and depressing their actual reality. This mindset can also confer survival value, because even if a situation poses a 99.99% likelhood of death, which a “rational” person may deem hopeless and therefore give up hope and perish, the “irrational” optimist, comforted by their ideology, will seize that 0.01% likelihood of survival. Hence in a mass die-off of a million people with a 99.99% death rate, the 100 or so people who do manage to survive against all the odds may mostly be those with “optimism bias”, who eventually propagate this trait to future generations. This may explain why “optimism bias” may be hard wired into human populations, as our distant ancestors have in fact faced mass die-offs more than once.
  2. confer upon the believer a sense of schadenfreude smugness, a sense of satisfaction that somehow in the long run, their enemies will inevitably face horrible violent retribution in this life or the next.
  3. offer simplistic pseudoexplanations which are easy to grasp (but are wrong). Most people are unable to comprehend complex ideas and therefore gravitate towards infantile scenarios or myths which superficially or intuitively “make sense” to them, but have no evidential or rational basis. For example, their “explanation” for human existence is that a supernatural father figure called God created everything just for us. Beyond this myth, the thoughts of the faithful congregation are then censored, they are not allowed to ask the next logical question, which is “who or what then created God?” because that would be blasphemy.

There is of course a tenth possible reason for holding a false belief, which is organic brain disease. We mentioned unusual conditions such as Capgras syndrome in our previous essay. Schizophrenia is characterised by “thought disorder” and deluded beliefs such as aliens broadcasting messages into one’s brain. Temporal lobe epilepsy can create hallucinations of an intensely religious nature. This essay on belief however focuses on the factors affecting belief in people without organic brain disease, hence here we will only apply the nine major factors described above and ancillary factors mentioned in parts 2 & 3, when analysing the nature of false beliefs.

Unfortunately the inevitable conclusion we must reach if the nine factors are indeed true, is that most human beings are self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simple minded. The profusion of brutal human conflicts and Machiavellian behaviour in history can indeed be best explained by these traits. Some pundits such as Steven Pinker have argued that there has been a trajectory of increasing peace, diminishing violence and greater social enlightenment in human societies over the past couple of hundred years (which they expect will continue into the indefinite future). Such pundits invariably write from the perspective of (and within the cocoon of) rich industrial societies, which over the past two hundred years have accumulated immense material wealth derived from our ability to harness fossil fuels. However we would argue that such diminished violence is not due to greater enlightenment nor wisdom in the population, but due to the hugely abundant resources available per capita in rich societies in contemporary times. Unrest, dissatisfaction and violence are quelled when an abundance of resources are available. When per capita resources become scarce (due to increasing populations, climate devastation and diminishing supply of high net energy sources ie Peak Oil) as is happening now in more vulnerable countries, revolution erupts among the deprived who are unable to obtain sufficient food or clean water. Deprivation was the root cause of the “Arab Spring” revolutions of 2011 (extending into 2012, when Syria thoroughly disintegrated), not the pursuit of greater freedom nor human rights nor democracy among those populations. As the rest of the world experiences worsening deprivation, we will see many more such revolutions erupt around the world, with the inevitable imposition of martial law. We witnessed this unfold in Egypt. After Mubarak was deposed, the subsequent democratically elected government was also unable to provide the resources demanded by the population, resulting in ongoing unrest. The only way order could be restored was by a military takeover. The military government will of course be no better at delivering resources to the people than any other government. They merely serve to maintain order by brutally suppressing dissent6.

Using the criteria above we can immediately understand why certain religious and political myths have such a strong hold over the human psyche, despite having no basis in reality. Let us examine the mindset of right wing Christian “patriotic” Americans, such as US Republican Tea Party members or the Republican Neoconservatives, with regard to the nine points above. Their typical beliefs, which are held to a greater or lesser degree among the faithful are:

  1. The “exceptionalism” of the USA, that they are entitled to do anything, anywhere, to anyone in the world (eg invade Iraq), using any fabricated excuses. They make up the rules and everyone else has to comply (or face trade sanctions, a CIA backed coup or invasion). American exceptionalism means that International Law does not apply to the USA or its citizens eg they can kidnap anyone arbitrarily and render them to prisons without trial and subject them to torture. Habeus corpus does not apply to “alien” nationals.
  2. The renewable energy option is just too much hard work and involves too much sacrifice. Much better to deny that global warming or Peak Oil exist, so they can blissfully continue their easy, comfortable fossil fuel based American way of life forever, a lifestyle which is “non-negotiable” (as famously declared by George HW Bush). Hence their favourite catchphrase “drill baby, drill”.
  3. The USA is the “last best hope” for the world, a beacon of freedom, liberty and democracy for a glorious future, which everyone else, everywhere else, will do well to emulate. They conveniently ignore the fact that the USA since World War II has a track record of actually undermining freedom, liberty and democracy around the world. They have a prolific history of corrupting governments to enslave their people to the service of American profits, or of overthrowing democratically elected governments, from Guatemala to Iran to Chile to name a few, then installing murderous despotic puppet leaders who offer sweetheart deals to predatory US corporations.
  4. They (the good Christian Neocons) were created in the image of God who has given them dominion over all creation to do with as they please.
  5. The “other” represent the forces of evil, whether it was Reagan’s view of “the evil empire” of the Soviet Union or Bush’s “crusade” against Saddam Hussein the “terrorist”, (even though Saddam had nothing to do with 9/11 and actually opposed Al Qaeda and it was in fact the US destruction of a functioning Iraq which turned it into a hotbed of terrorism and a breeding ground for ISIS). In preparation for the US invasion of Iraq, grunts in boot camp training were encouraged to denigrate Iraqis as “towel heads” or “sand niggers” to facilitate the indiscriminate oppression or murder of innocent people.
  6. The common views and values of the GOP faithful reinforce their prejudices and serve as social glue between them. “Patriotism” and “Nationalism” are regarded as lofty virtues, just as the Nazis promoted such unquestioning mindless conformity. (We see a similar mindset with Tony Abbott’s “team Australia”). Those who exposed or undermined illegitimate or murderous US government practices, such as Aaron Swartz or Edward Snowden, were labelled as traitors. The vicous pursuit of Swartz and Snowden by the US government illustrates that the Obama administration is, in this respect, no different in practice to the rabid, foaming at the mouth Republicans.
  7. God is on their side and as “good” Christians in the “end times”, they will be magically levitated to paradise in the Rapture and enjoy heavenly bliss forever.
  8. Everyone else in the “end times” will die and suffer excruciatingly in the fires of hell. Unbelievers and non-Christians will get their just desserts in the form of relentless torture for all eternity. Furthermore these good Christians hold the view that Jihadi suicide bombers, who believe they will be rewarded with 72 virgins in Muslim heaven, are utterly deluded.
  9. Global warming is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be a greenie conspiracy. Evolution is a hoax, it is far to complicated to understand and must therefore be an atheist conspiracy. They cannot imagine a world 4.5 billion years old nor the gradual movement of continents across the face of the planet, however a 6000 year old world with fixed continents is easier to grasp by the simpleminded and therefore must be true.

Australia has its own share of lunatics who hold similar Imperialistic and religious views to varying degrees, from the Rinehart funded racist hack Andrew Bolt, to politicians such as the execrable Cory Bernardi and the anti-science Prime Monster Tony Abbott. It is fair to describe them as self serving, lazy, boastful, egocentric, xenophobic, tribal, fearful, mean spirited and simpleminded. Our most powerful tool to oppose such corrosive, indeed downright evil characters, is the weapon of ridicule. For any talented satirists out there, here is a suggested title for a series of political cartoons: The Madventures of Phoney Rabbit AKA Malice in Plunderland. Abbott is portrayed as a long eared, rodent-like creature (akin to his “conservative” predecessor, the lying rodent war criminal) whose only ideas about national policy are to abuse refugees (including children7) and to seek out money by digging holes in the ground.

We can now understand why such people reject (and are downright hostile toward) world views which:

  1. Reveal that their agendas are self serving with utter disregard for any people outside their circle of insular tribalism.
  2. Require they adopt a difficult path of hard work and sacrifice.
  3. Reveal that they are actually morally deficient or morally bankrupt.
  4. Reveal that they are not particularly special and are in fact inextricably related to that which they have regarded as inferior or repugnant or “separate”. For example, they regard the environment as “separate” from human beings and “separate” from economics, they believe the environment is an infinite resource and a limitless toilet that they can use and abuse forever. Hence they reject the views that we originate from, are part of and are dependent on the environment for our survival, labeling such views as “leftie/greenie” propaganda8.
  5. Reveal that the groups they have previously reviled, “the other”, are in fact just ordinary human beings not too different from themselves. Indeed “the other” may well be morally superior to them in many respects and certainly do not deserve to be exploited and killed.
  6. Require them, for ethical or other honourable reasons, to break away from their traditional social support group or tribe or nation, an emotionally gutwrenching act which they cannot contemplate.
  7. Reveal the reality of the situation is far worse than they ever imagined, with little or no hope for the future. This can lead to disruptive psychological and emotional distress and even despair (eg awareness of the guaranteed self-destruction of industrial civilisation and the possibility of human extinction as a result of climate devastation)
  8. Reveal that not only will there be no future paradise for them but their enemies will not get any particular “comeuppance”. Everyone is in the same boat.
  9. Are too complex for them to understand9

We can now also see why it is difficult if not impossible to pry people away from their religious and political beliefs and why logical argument using irrefutable evidence is generally ineffective. Nothing short of a monumentally traumatic upheaval (eg the arbitrary death of their own child, perhaps from an extreme weather event) which forces them to try to make sense of the situation and to confront their false beliefs, may possibly have any effect. Even despite such an event, many will still go to their graves persisting in their denial of reality, as their mindset is too firmly entrenched. They simply cannot give up the phoney edifice, the false image, that they have constructed of themselves, for themselves.

PART 2: OTHER FACTORS INFLUENCING BELIEFS (or proclaimed beliefs):

  1. The blame game: avoiding or laying blame:

a. Avoiding blame: You will recall the trial of Oscar Pistorius (the bilateral amputee athlete nicknamed “the blade runner”) in 2014 for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp. According to neighbours the couple had a loud argument lasting more than an hour late at night, just prior to the shooting. Pistorius pleaded not guilty, his defence in court being that he believed her to be a burglar in the washroom, a burglar who had decided to linger about and partake in bodily ablutions (as desperate criminals are wont to do) before sauntering off with any booty. Quite rightly, the judges dismissed Pistorius’ absurd proclaimed “belief” for the contrived nonsense it was.

b. Laying blame:

To blame others in order to “make sense” of a devastating event (“something bad happened, it must be someone’s fault”) or assuage their own sense of guilt (eg their child being afflicted with autism), or to extort financial compensation. Two examples here:

      1. Blaming the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine for autism:

This scare was manufactured by the fraudster Andrew Wakefield in an anecdotal compilation of twelve cases published by the respected medical journal the Lancet in 199810. The concerns raised were taken seriously by the Medical community. In subsequent years, at least 120 studies were conducted in different countries involving huge numbers of children – the Danish cohort study alone, by Madsen et al, followed up more than half a million children. Multiple meta-analyses of the numerous independent studies were performed by different bodies (eg. the US CDC, UK MRC, NHS and Cochrane collaboration to name a few) and no convincing statistical association between MMR and autism could ever be demonstrated. It was conclusively found that the benefits of the MMR vaccine overwhelmingly exceeded any risks. Yes, the vaccine could have side effects, but catching the infections was many magnitudes worse (particularly in malnourished children in poor countries). Wakefield was investigated and was discovered to have committed scientific fraud for pecuniary gain and was deregistered by the General Medical Council of the UK in 2010. The Lancet itself eventually retracted Wakefield’s paper, denouncing it as a fraudulent submission. The mainstream media on the other hand had no interest in hard data. Sensationalism is what sells the tabloids. They chose scientifically illiterate journalists to continue perpetrating Wakefield’s fraud according to the time honoured tactic of Goebbels (if you repeat a lie often enough, people will come to believe it). As a result, there remains no shortage of people who still “believe” this fabricated lie and think that the medical establishment are involved in a conspiracy to cover up any MMR/autism link (if so, why did the Lancet publish it in the first place?). This has resulted in many children not being vaccinated over the years, loss of herd immunity and the eruption of various viral epidemics. Wakefield, the scurrilous mainstream media and their gullible readers have been responsible for the death and disability of many unvaccinated children. This is an ongoing issue, the most recent measles epidemic occurring among visitors to Disneyland in December 2014. This is but one example of the deceit perpetrated by antivaccination zealots who have mounted scare campaigns against other vaccines such as whooping cough. In 2012, more than 48,000 cases of whooping cough and 20 deaths were reported to the US Centers for Disease Control, the greatest number since 1955. Even though many of these antivaccination nutcases may be wealthy middle class Americans or Australians, their mentality is the same as that of the Islamic fundamentalists or the Taliban who killed polio vaccinators working in Nigeria or Pakistan 11. Hence the one great chance humanity had to eradicate another viral blight (other than smallpox) from the face of the Earth has now been lost due to stubborn and vicious human ignorance. Unfortunately it is the children who suffer the most, at the hands of those who claim to act in their best interests.

      1. Blaming silicone breast implants for rheumatological or autoimmune diseases:

The assertion, over many years, that silicone breast implants caused rheumatological or autoimmune diseases, was conclusively disproven by several studies including those by the Mayo Clinic (NEJM 1994) and a Harvard Nurses study (NEJM 1995). No significant association could be found. Even though many lawsuits against implant manufacturers were subsequently dismissed, courts still sporadically found in favour of litigants despite the absence of scientific evidence eg in late 1998 the Nevada Supreme Court upheld a compensatory damage award of $41 million against Dow Chemical to Charlotte Mahlum for her multiple-sclerosis-like symptoms. In January 1999 a jury in a Washington Federal court awarded $10 million in compensatory damages against Bristol-Myers-Squibb to an attorney who claimed her implants caused scleroderma. Such verdicts show that the Law can indeed be an ass.

It is not our intention to defend any corporations or establishment organisations. It is our intention to promote the use of evidence, reason and fairness as the bases for belief and action, no matter what individuals or groups are in question. This should be equally applicable to our dealings with the “evil” corporations.

  1. The 6 P: The proposition of predisposition to a paradigm based on politics, personality or profession:

This is idea that people seek belief systems which happen to align with their political prejudices (eg right wing conservatives vs left wing, small “l” liberals), their innate personality (eg pessimist vs optimist) or their professional background (reflecting the ingrained mindset and experiences of the profession they were trained in). It is a highly prevalent idea popularised by the mainstream media, but has weak explanatory power and can be misused. It is such a large topic that it requires considerable elaboration in appendix 1 to this article.

PART 3: FACTORS WHICH GENERATE AND PROPAGATE BOGUS PARADIGMS

  1. Childhood indoctrination is probably the most powerful factor. Richard Dawkins himself alluded to the fact that children will uncritically accept the edicts of authority figures, which certainly has survival value when there is legitimate transfer of worthwhile practical knowledge from old to young. However, like many human traits, this process is open to abuse by those in power. Childhood indoctrination with nonsensical ideas can be particularly difficult to shake off and may require many decades of critical re-evaluation by the thinking individual before being shed, if at all. As the Jesuits famously claimed “give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man” 12. They had certainly figured out how to brainwash children.
  2. The “might equals right” paradigm, which is generally framed in this way: God is on my side. I have triumphed over my enemies. That proves God is on my side. Consider groups A to E, which each believe in “different” gods, however thay all adopt the exact same paradigm mentioned above. In battles between the groups, group A eventually triumphs and dominates groups B to E (one group or another is bound to win, eventually). Group A then claims in retrospect they have “proven” god A is the only true god and the other groups also end up subscribing to this view, seeing as how their own gods have abandoned them to defeat (never mind the fact that none of these gods ever existed in the first place). In reality any other group, eg group B, could well have triumphed (depending on all sorts of factors including military intelligence, superior technology, better organisation and most important, sheer luck eg weather which favoured them on the day of battle). Triumphant group B would then claim their god B is the only true one and the others would buy into it. Such a retrospective claim does not however prove the validity of any god nor the existence of any god. It is a post hoc pseudoproof with no basis in reality, however it is a powerful propaganda tool which can be used to persuade the unthinking masses.
  3. Extreme conviction. Strongly held beliefs may sometimes be defended to the death. However just because an individual is willing to die for their belief (eg Christian martyrs in pagan Rome) does not mean that their belief is true. It merely reflects an intractable delusion (which in some cases may be the result of temporal lobe dysfunction or schizophrenia, organic brain abnormalities which are completely impervious to logical persuasion). Matyrdom however tends to be a rather convincing act of commitment, which may therefore serve to recruit naive onlookers as new followers.

PART 4: DENIALISM VS SKEPTICISM, ANALYSING THE ANALYSTS

Global warming denialists insist they should be called skeptics and resent being called denialists. The fact is they are not skeptics and are unworthy of such a title. The only proper, correct and accurate term for them is denialists.

A skeptic is one who debunks nonsensical beliefs (ie. ideas not based on evidence and reason). A true skeptic will therefore debunk the idea that global warming is a hoax rather than promote it.

Even though the skeptic habitually debunks silly ideas, this does not mean the skeptic does not believe in anything. In fact, a true skeptic is also a rationalist, who accepts paradigms based on evidence and reason, while simultaneously allowing for the possibility that such science based paradigms may be need to be modified or even abandoned if better evidence and reason subsequently come to light.

The astounding effectiveness of the Scientific Method which has transformed our modern lives is undeniable proof that Objective Truth exists. All of our modern inventions, innovations and complex systems (eg computer software) originating from scientific discoveries, logic and rationality are predicated on the fact that Objective Truth exists, that outside our tiny little minds there is an external reality which operates on hard mathematical principles and a logical framework. Mathematics is the language of the universe. Only ivory tower philosophers13 and humanities graduates educated to the highest level of stupidity will attempt to deny the fact of Objective Truth14, even as they type out their drivel on their electronic computers.

Absolute Truth however is something we can never achieve. Even in the “hard” science of Physics, truth is highly contextual. For example, Newton’s laws of motion and gravitation, strictly speaking, are not absolutely “true” but are merely extremely accurate in the context of the medium scale (the magnitudes of mass, speed, acceleration etc familiar to our human scale). However Newtonian physics needs to be modified or abandoned in favour of Einstein’s theories of relativity in the situations of extreme mass, relative speeds or acceleration eg when making satellite GPS calculations or in the vicinity of a black hole. Furthermore Newtonian and gravitational considerations vanish at the level of subatomic particles where Quantum mechanics must be adopted. Each of these Physics paradigms, applied in the appropriate context, is objectively true (often to a mindbogglingly high level of mathematical precision), but in a different context the paradigm may have to be modified or even disregarded. None of those Physics paradigms represents Absolute Truth. Indeed, in Quantum mechanics, Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle provides mathematical proof that Absolute Truth is absolutely unattainable.

All statements about truth are actually statements about probability, about what we deem to be correct beyond any reasonable doubt. This applies to the context of a rocket scientist who calculates the trajectory of a spacecraft and makes judgements about where it is and where it is headed, which, although highly accurate, are always prone to margins of error. It applies to the context of the climate scientists who collate data from multiple sources and make judgements about the current state of global warming and where we are headed, which are also prone to margins of error, but represent the most reliable information we can possibly achieve. The denialists who demand absolute precision about the present, absolute certainty about the future and “absolute truth” about everything are merely demonstrating that they are utterly ignorant as to how Science and reality work.

Skeptical thinking requires both intellectual flexibility and humility. Humility to admit error when the evidence indicates one is wrong and humility to be able to examine one’s own beliefs. Even the famous quip by Socrates that “the unexamined life is not worth living”, itself requires examination. What was the basis of Socrates’ belief ? Was it founded on some sort of empirical observation, population survey or cohort study? Or did it merely stem from intellectual arrogance: “I am a grey haired philosopher therefore my life is more worthwhile than yours” (reflecting belief functions 4 and 5)?

Using the Socratic method itself, we ourselves should ask Socrates: What is an unexamined life and what is an examined life? Is there a hard boundary between the two categories or a gradual fuzzy transition? At what level of fuzzy transition does a life suddenly become worthwhile? Is navel gazing the only criterion by which we should measure the value of a life?

Consider children with Down’s syndrome, who tend to be good natured, gentle, generous and loving. They have a great capacity to derive joy from simple everyday life and can also generate great joy for others, especially their parents. However they lack the ability to indulge in complicated philosphical musings. Does that mean their lives are not worth living?

Consider philosophers such as Otto Weininger or intellectuals such as Sylvia Plath, who deeply examined their own lives, wallowed in existential angst and eventually committed suicide, the ultimate declaration that their examined lives were not worth living.

We agree that those who can attain a deeper understanding of life, the universe and everything can also gain a higher level of appreciation regarding our existence. The intermittent “eureka” moments enjoyed from achieving profound comprehension of various aspects of Reality while muddling through this journey of life, certainly add greatly to the richness of our life.

Is it however better to be a contented cow, blissfully ignorant as you are being led along the ramp to the slaughterhouse; or a sentient being, fully aware and utterly terrified of your impending demise as you trundle towards the abbatoir? Perhaps it is best to strive to be a sentient being who can sieze control of your own destiny and escape from the abbatoir. This is what we advocate to our readers: get off this fatal path now, before it is too late. It is no longer possible to “save humanity” but you may be able to save yourselves, to survive at least a few decades beyond the general die-off, by establishing an offgrid permaculture community in a high latitude remote location.

PART 5: REASSESSING “CHICKEN AND EGG” ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT BELIEF

Neurophysiological studies have discovered this bizarre, counterintuitive finding: that the electrical trigger in the motor cortex to perform an action precedes the electrical activity in the frontal cortex indicative of our conscious awareness to perform that act. The neurological impulse to, say, pick up an object activates a split second before the awareness we have made such a decision surfaces. Our brain triggers the action first, then we make up reasons as to why we acted later.

Using that as an analogy, let us also consider this possibility: that we instinctively understand what behaviours are required to advance our self interests (at least in the short term), such as seizing the resources of other people. Only after we have commited ourselves to behave in a particular way do we then make up “beliefs” to justify our heinous actions, eg the Neoconartists proclaimed “belief” that Saddam had WMDs in Iraq, evidence be damned. Here is another example: I know my luxurious lifestyle depends on my profligate combustion of fossil fuels, which I therefore choose to continue unabated. Only after I have made that choice, do I then profess my belief that AGW must be a hoax, evidence be damned.

Hence rather than belief giving rise to behaviour (as is generally assumed), we assert that in many cases the decision to pursue a course of self serving behaviour is made first and only subsequently is a purported “belief” then fabricated. This would explain why so many purported beliefs are patently absurd and are unrelated to any real world evidence. Contrived “beliefs” tend to lack any logical consistency, apart from the finding that they benefit the “believer” and are used to justify their despicable behaviour.

CONCLUSION

Before attempting to analyse others, it is important we analyse ourselves. Are our beliefs based on reality and truth (as they should be), or are they contrived and based on or influenced by the self serving elements outlined in our essay?

We contend that our exposition regarding the nature of human belief provides the best explanation as to why supposedly sane people without any known brain damage, such as members of the US Republican Tea Party or Australian “conservative” politicians (and those who voted them in), can subscribe to beliefs which are demonstrably false, irrational and ludicrous.

Never has the phrase “knowledge is power” been so starkly relevant, as when applied to the understanding of the psychological mechanisms which underpin human behaviour. Freud was the first to describe how the reptilian and infantile aspects of our brains tend to dominate over the rational and restrained “superego”. His nephew Edward Bernays applied this knowledge to devastating effect, with astoundingly successful US government and commercial propaganda campaigns which reaped vast wealth for himself.

If you are among the tiny fraction of the human population who are interested in these matters and have managed to read and understand this article up to this point, you will now also have acquired the knowledge by which you can gain power over others. You will now know how to manufacture an ideology which panders to the nine factors which promote adherence to false beliefs. You will grasp the means by which you can indoctrinate gormless people, who constitute the majority of the population, into your ideology. With a little charisma and marketing, you too can be the next L. Ron Hubbard or Sun Myung Moon, reaping vast wealth for yourself.

Or you can try to do some good in the world instead, by teaching others how to think critically, avoid false beliefs and resist bullshit.

Proximate Planetary Problems Caused by: Caused by: UNDERLYING CAUSES of Planetary Problems
– Mass extinctions due to– Ecosystem destruction due to– Global warming and – Pollution – Overharvesting of Nature’s Capital and – Fossil Fuel extraction and combustion – Overconsumption & excessive waste production by– Excessive numbers of homo stupidus – Bad human behaviour due to Dysfunctional thinking (eg delusional “infinite” economic growth on a finite planet) and Bogus beliefs (eg a God given sense of entitlement)

Medical principles specify that true cures for diseases can be only achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those diseases. True cures for our planetary problems can only be achieved by elimination of the underlying causes of those problems, ie human beings who behave badly. By necessity, this will take the form of either complete human extinction, or the massive dieoff of humanity leaving only a tiny handful of survivors who are able to behave properly, who can exert a light ecofootprint without destroying the very life support systems which sustain us. Such remaining sapient humans can then pass on the qualities of eufunctional thinking and reality based beliefs to future generations. Failure to achieve sapience among surviving humans will inevitably lead to complete human extinction. The Planet will rid itself of parasitic human activities one way or another.

Attributions: Geoffrey Chia: inflammatory language, Rebecca Willis: quality control.

Footnotes:

  1. Functional MRI may change this, however such research is beyond the scope of this essay.
  2. Who tends to benefit from such a position? The fossil fuel industry. Who has funded the multibillion dollar disinformation campaign denying AGW? The fossil fuel industry.
  3. For a society to descend into madness, two elements must coexist together: a self-serving, deceitful ruling class and a gullible, compliant population. If one exists but not the other, then sanity may yet prevail. If lying psychopaths somehow seize power but a sensible population are wise to the absurdity of their propaganda, the psychopaths will be ejected in short order. If the population are naive and gullible but are governed by wise and benevolent leaders, then sane policy promoting social justice and peace can prevail, but may be tenuous. The naive population is always vulnerable to the false promises and charisma of duplicitous psychopaths, who may eventually sieze power. The best scenario is of course that of a sapient population who vote into power wise and benevolent leaders to govern them, but this population must not hesitate to depose and prosecute any leaders who engage in egregious acts of betrayal such as railroading the country into war on the basis of lies. The key to social stability therefore has to be the intensive education of the general population in critical thinking, to encourage them to be active politically and to hold their leaders to the highest standards of ethical behaviour. Unfortunately the so-called modern education system is only geared towards churning out clever idiots, useful cogs in the machinery of industrial society who lack the sense or the motivation to question or oppose obscenities such as the invasion of Iraq or the omnicidal agenda of the fossil fuel corporations. Among the clever idiots, I (GC) must include my own Medical Specialist colleagues, in whom I am deeply, deeply disappointed.

It is abundantly clear that the USA of today has tumbled well down into the abyss of insanity, with not much further to go till it implodes catastrophically. It appears that Australia will inevitably follow suit.

  1. http://guymcpherson.com/home/doomstea/public_html/guymcpherson.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/WISDOMSeekingTruth-by-Chia-for-NBL.pdf
  2. It has been quipped that the favourite response by a bureaucrat to any request is “NO”, because such a negative answer fulfils two functions: it gives him/her a sense of power over others and enables him/her to avoid doing any actual work.
  3. The Pentagon, in collaboration with major US universities, is in the process of militarising the social sciences, to formulate a systematic action plan which they will ruthlessly implement when civil society inevitably breaks down in the USA. They have titled this “The Minerva Initiative”. Their goal is to maintain, through force, the supply chains of fossil fuels and other critical resources as they become scarce, to preserve the creature comforts and security of the controlling establishment, at the expense of everyone else. Dr Nafeez Ahmed, erstwhile Guardian writer, calls it “a defence manifesto for the one percent”.
  4. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-02-14/malcolm-fraser-attacks-abbott-treatment-human-rights-commission/6098920
  5. Abbott’s latest manifestation of foot-in-mouth disease was seen in his condescending St. Patrick’s day speech to the Irish on 13/3/15 when he declared it was “the one day of the year when it’s good to be green” before waving his green tie at the camera.

http://www.9news.com.au/national/2015/03/13/12/45/pm-abbotts-patronising-st-patricks-day-message-slammed-by-irish-business-leaders The way this fossil fuel flunky parades his ignorant environmental vandalism as badge of pride continues to be truly nauseating and represents an ongoing malevolent threat to humanity.

  1. Incomprehensible complexity by itself is not a reason to reject a paradigm. It all depends on whether the complex paradigm is based on evidence, reason and proof. I (GC) will be the first to admit I am too stupid to understand Einsteinian or Quantum Physics. I find them incomprehensibly complex. Nevertheless I trust and accept their conclusions, not because they have been advocated by professorial authority figures in white coats, but because they have been amply validated in the real world. Functioning electronics, laser devices and GPS systems to name just a few, are irrefutable proof of the truth of those paradigms. There is a vast difference between trust in Science, which is based on real world validation, and faith in Religion, which is based on gullilbility. On the other hand, many of the financial machinations of bankers and their cronies have deliberately been made incomprehensibly complex and opaque, not because they are based on real mathematical laws of the universe, but because they wish to obfuscate and hide the convoluted pathways by which they funnel vast amounts of money into their pockets. They are parasites on the productive endeavours of society. This explains why poor and middle class people, particularly in the USA, have been going backwards economically over the past few decades despite working longer and harder, but the top 0.1% have seen their bank balances skyrocket despite little or no effort on their part (unless one defines “effort” as creating new “financial innovations” such as subprime mortgage schemes camouflaged by collateralised debt obligations and credit default swaps).
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MMR_vaccine_controversy#cite_note
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poliomyelitis_eradication#Opposition_and_aid_worker_killings
  4. https://breakingspells.wordpress.com/2008/01/01/give-me-a-child-until-he-is-seven-and-i-will-give-you-the-man/
  5. I (GC) define an ivory tower philosopher as a scientifically illiterate pundit who attempts to explain life, the universe and everything by navel-gazing within the vacuum of ignorance. Advice to philosophers: unless you can achieve some level of scientific knowledge and literacy, your pontifications are utterly worthless and any similarity of your ideas to objective reality are purely coincidental. On the other hand, scientifically literate philosophers such as Clive Hamilton are of immense value to humanity. We sorely need their thoughts and advice, as is true for scientifically literate investigative journalists.
  6. The misrepresentation of “cogito er sum” by philosophers and the faulty logic of Pascal’s Wager compared with the good sense of the Precautionary Principle are outlined in appendix 2

Appendices 1 and 2 will be published in another post

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