Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Water: The Magical Cure-All

Homeopathy kills a child. Now, I'm not surprised that this happened (or happens). What I'm curious about is the motivation for such irrationality. What drives people to seek out bizarre, unproven, "mystical" treatments for maladies that are perfectly treatable with real medicine? Humans have a talent for cognitive dissonance. Even if all evidence points to the contrary, Jenny McCarthy still believes (and that's the proper term) that vaccinations cause autism. Holocaust deniers still believe that Hitler did not, in fact, kill a bunch of Jews. AIDS conspiracy theorists believe that AIDS is a government-created disease meant to thin the population and/or get rid of homosexuals.

But here's my question: why do people believe this nonesense? What is the draw? If I can explain something in perfectly reasonable terms in a way that's clearly observable, why does that not suffice? Why does mysticism have to play a part at all? Look, here's an example. Let's say that one of your friends believes that keeping a dryer sheet in your pocket will keep mosquitoes away. That's an attractive proposition, given that Alaska's mosquitoes are the size of songbirds and darken the skies with their numbers during the height of summer. So you try this. It does not work. You rub the dryer sheet all over your head and neck. Still nothing. You pack several dryer sheets in your pockets. Nada. The mosquitoes don't care. You know what does work? Mosquito repellant, easily purchased as the grocery store for like two dollars. It's a little like suntan lotion, although there's a spray-on kind, too. The point is, repellant works, but the dryer sheet does not.

But your friend still believes that dryer sheets work. Why? When all evidence to the contrary demolishes one's belief, what is the point in retaining that belief? This question applies to a great many subjects including conspiracy theorists, members of the BAND*, homeopaths, religion in general, this guy, and many more.

So I guess my question is this: why do people believe crazy things when they have absolutely no evidence to back those claims up? And why, when contrary evidence is introduced, do they hold on to those beliefs, often with a tightened grip?

*Birds Are Not Dinosaurs

9 comments:

ScottE said...

Well said, though there's a stray asterisk next to the BAND. (Just spell it out.)

Steven said...

I know what you mean.

Some more examples - Nasa faked the moon landings, 2012, big foot, 9/11 was inside job, civilizations on mars, nwo and all these secret societies, Obama is the anti-christ, and the list goes on and on.

I really don't understand how people can be so gullible. But its sure making some people rich.

Sean Craven said...

Critical thought demands both education and an ongoing process of self-evaluation. Not everyone is up to this.

But everyone likes to feel as if they understand what's going on. And when they can find a belief that makes them feel as though they have more control over things, well, that feels extra-good.

Raymond said...

Conspiracy Theories thrive precisely because there _are_ well documented cases of such "perception management"

One needs only to look at the Tuskegee Experiments to realize that horrific, wide-ranging and secretive "conspiracies" exist or existed.

The most chilling statement by Peter Buxtun, who blew the case open.

(paraphrased)

"The San Francisco Health Clinic admitted to me that they had received Memos from the PHS ten years prior not to treat the specific men within the study and their families. They were instead to be referred to approved doctors"

That tells me such memos were passed out nationwide in all cities with public health clinics.

This study went on for 40 years, with thousands of willing and knowledgeable participants and enough trace evidence for suspicious minds to follow, yet until Dr. Peter Buxtun, no one acted on this.

Trish said...

I wish I had more to add to this. It really does fascinate me too, and I was knocked on my butt when I accidentally stumbled upon a BAND-ish message board last summer. (It was a board about action figures of all things. I was looking for information on an old "Jurassic Park" action figure I'd found.)

But I have heard about the "dryer sheets keep mosquitoes away" thing. I can explain the appeal of that one: If you and your friend went camping, and she went to sleep with a "Skintastic Wipe" in her jacket pocket, and the next morning, that pocket mysteriously now had a hole in it, you would swear off chemical repellents too. I hear orange oil (not juice, but the essential oil) and Listerine work well.

Metalraptor said...

"Nasa faked the moon landings, 2012, big foot, 9/11 was inside job, civilizations on mars, nwo and all these secret societies, Obama is the anti-christ, and the list goes on and on."

How could anyone believe such garbage. Its obvious that bigfoot landed on the moon in 1969, and then he ran for president and he's really controlling the show.

Anyway, have you heard the latest on Tet Zoo about the guy? He's claiming dinosaurs dragged their tails on the ground. Yes, lets ignore all the lack of tail tracks. Ugh.

ScottE said...

The rejection of evidence (and reality itself) isn't always the domain of the crazy, either.

Some folk are purely anti-intellectual. As this fellow demonstrates.

padraig said...

What Sean said.

"Critical thought demands both education and an ongoing process of self-evaluation".

Moreover, it requires you to discard beliefs that you find comfortable for whatever reason, without giving you any direct comfort in return. Life sometimes sucks, get used to it. That's not terribly comforting, even if it's true.

If your child is autistic (for example), you have a couple of choices.

You can accept that the universe is random and there is no God and you just got hosed and it's time to cowboy up, soldier.

You can decide that there is a God, but He/She/It is not interventionist and it's time to cowboy up, soldier.

You can decide that there is a God and this is part of some eternal plan.

Or you can go out and lay blame on something, because the rage you feel at random chance *must* have an outlet, or it turns upon you. You can't blame God, because that would be wrong... but you can't assume its part of a plan, either, because you can't picture your Deity as so cruel, so it must clearly be some other agent. It can't be chance, because God wouldn't let that chance happen, so there must be an actual *agency* that has brought about this misfortune.

Lots of people need to believe in something other than what they can see, that's a pretty normal human response. It's also a pretty common human response to make that jump, and cross the gap from there to believing in something in spite of what you see.

Metalraptor said...

Huh, just finished reading Steven Baxter's "Evolution", and what you described there sound exactly like what happened in one of the chapters. A mother hominid's child dies of sickness, and with her logical mind, she thinks that her aunt, who had malice towards her, "willed" her son to death. So she kills her. Oh the humanity.