Information and belief.

“Information and belief” is legal language used to protect someone from perjury.
It basically says, “I don’t have firsthand information.
But from what I’ve been told, I believe it.”
That seems to define most of our beliefs.
We’ve been “lead to believe” them.
Firsthand information about the world is quite rare.
Most of our knowledge comes from others.
Not from direct observation and experience.
When I was in art school, I was lead to believe.
That Renaissance artists invented perspective.
The technique of representing reality on a two-dimensional surface.
In a way that looks true to life.
But now I’m not so sure.
Because I’ve been introduced to new information.
Prehistoric art in France’s Niaux Caves.
Intentionally and realistically rendered paintings of animal portraiture.
13,000-year-old masterpieces that art critic Jerry Saltz said rival the best works at the Louvre.
So now what?
Do I stick with my original belief?
Secondhand knowledge that most people still believe.
Or do I change my mind?
Goethe wrote, “Doubt grows with knowledge.”
A tenet to seriously ponder during today’s deluge of data.
We live in an age of information oppression.
And the more information, the less belief.

Do you see the foxes?

Don’t you just love funny, charming and enthusiastic people?
Of course you do.
That’s why speakers, consultants, and politicians hone those skills.
So you’ll feel good about them and buy into their agendas.
That’s how our brains are wired.
Our impulsive, feeling mind leads us.
It directs our attention, and guides our reflections and decisions.
Especially when we’re overloaded and under stress.
But that wiring can lead us astray.
And in an age of endless posturing, it’s wise to be aware of that propensity.
To observe our own thoughts and learn to spot the foxes.
In the 1970s, “Dr. Myron L. Fox” gave a brilliant talk on mathematical game theory.
To a classroom of educators, graduate students, MDs and PhDs.
The astute audience was quite engaged with his lecture.
In fact, they rated the “Doctor’s” performance quite highly.
They even believed they learned new material.
But “Dr. Fox” was literally a fox.
A cunning actor skilled at getting an audience to believe.
His “lecture” was nothing more than an experiment, a meaningless show.
Filled with “an excessive use of double talk, neologisms, non sequiturs, and contradictory statements.”
But he spouted his nonsense with authority.
And he did so in a charming and seductive manner.
So much so that no one noticed that he didn’t really say a damn thing.
I’ve been doing a lot of looking.
And, I don’t know about you, but I see foxes.
I’m not in the business of pointing them out.
But I thought you should know.
They’re everywhere.

Desire is the reason.

I remember a funny, yet sad episode of the television police drama “NYPD Blue.”
It featured a man selling black boxes to plain-looking women, promising them an improved appearance.
All they had to do was plug it in and wear it over their heads for a few hours each day.
And pay him $2,000.
The story sounds like the preposterous invention of a comedic screenwriter, but it’s not really.
For years, I’ve seen ads for a unique brand of fitness equipment that looks like a Victorian time machine.
It allows you to “Exercise in exactly 4 minutes per day!”
And in those few minutes, you can get the same results as an hour and a half of conventional exercise.
For a little over $14,000.
Interestingly, the ads show up in the back of popular science magazines, which appeal to “rational” readers.
People who believe in things, as long as there’s a reason and evidence to believe them.
Whether those readers are aware of it or not, desire is their reason to believe.
And evidence is their permission.
Just like the “irrational” women who wore the black boxes.

********

From “The Business of Belief.

A sea of bias.

Do you believe what you read?
Not if you read exhaustively.
Because you’ll inevitably discover today’s unsettling reality.
We’re swimming in a sea of bias.
Negotiating conflicting opinions about everything and everyone.
And when the experts agree?
Is it then safe to relax and believe?
I don’t think so.
At least not until you’ve gone to the source.
That’s just what Richard Griggs did with a classic psychology study.
And what he found is disconcerting.
Griggs analyzed the research and conclusions of Solomon Asch’s “conformity” experiments.
The ones in which participants were shown a vertical line on a card.
And were instructed to select the same line from a choice of three on another card.
It was a fairly simple perceptual task.
Until the seven confederates in the room with the participant unanimously chose the wrong line.
Then some of the participants went along with the group.
Even though their eyes (and mind) told them something different.
But here’s the key piece of information from the source experiment.
The majority of participants’ responses (63.2 per cent vs. 36.8 per cent) went against the group.
People, in general, defied the majority opinion and relied upon their own good judgment.
Asch himself wrote: “… the facts that were being judged were, under the circumstances, the most decisive.”
So why is this referred to as a “conformity” experiment?
Why isn’t it called an experiment on “independence?”
In fact, Griggs analyzed various textbooks and found that the conformity narrative dominated.
Most books never even mention that the majority of participants in Asch’s experiment rebelled.
I’m not sure why social psychology is biased towards conformity and obedience narratives (it is).
But it does make me wonder.
What other biased narratives are we experiencing on a daily basis?
And how are those narratives affecting our beliefs and behaviors?