The benefits of being a wee bit sceptical in believing others

I am convinced that my brain does a poor job of separating truth from fiction.  This leads to many false beliefs.  Therefore, I want to make at least a minimal effort to understand my brain better and be on guard against its deceptive ways.

Part of that minimal effort is to read stuff on and about that approximately 1.4-kilogram lump of electrophysiological goo that I am a proud owner of (most of the time).

Read:  (WARNING: 20 minutes read minimum)

In this essay Kevin Simler ponders eloquently on the question “how could we end up believing crony beliefs?” crony belief ahead?

In summary, he divides our beliefs into “merit beliefs and crony beliefs.”

Kevin argues,

“Both contribute to our bottom line — survival and reproduction — but they do so in different ways: merit beliefs by helping us navigate the world, crony beliefs by helping us look good.”

According to his definition, “crony beliefs have been ‘hired’ not for the legitimate purpose of accurately modelling the world, but rather for social and political kickbacks.”

“Everywhere we turn, we face pressure to adopt crony beliefs.  At work, we’re rewarded for believing good things about the company.  At church, we earn trust in exchange for faith, while facing severe sanctions for heresy.  Even dating can put untoward pressure on our minds, insofar as potential romantic partners judge us for what we believe.

If you’ve ever wanted to believe something, ask yourself where that desire comes from.  Hint: it’s not the desire simply to believe what’s true.

In short: Just as money can pervert scientific research, so everyday social incentives have the potential to distort our beliefs.  … social incentives are the root of all our biggest thinking errors.

Finally, he shares some ways of how to identify our crony beliefs (yes, even climate change) and some ideas on what to do about them (not easy).

The third kind of belief

Reading that conundrum refreshed one of my own cherished beliefs.

On top of those two beliefs there exists a third one – a real dangerous one – life throws at us just for good measure:

“Come on, that is just common sense!”

is it really common sense?That term ‘common sense’ can be applied to just about anything you think is obvious, or at least should be to anyone who can fog a mirror.

I don’t trust ‘common sense’.

The problem with its usage is that many things that initially seem obvious are not.

Often when someone says that “ABC is just common sense,” he either doesn’t fully understand ABC and its implications, or would prefer that you don’t ask too many questions.  Frequently it’s just a tactic of diversion.

But who wants to be the person who questions that which should just be ‘common sense’?

My unsolicited advice?  Be that person.

Moreover, common sense is just not so common any more nowadays.  Who is the judge anyway?

By the way, it is totally common sense that the best way to grow one’s net worth is by regularly investing in the stock market, slowly but steadily and then practicing patience.  The occasional bad news almost never supersedes the power of patience.  But knowing this piece of common sense to be right doesn’t make it any easier to accept.

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