These are well-supported facts with the strength of data and/or obvious proof behind them. Yet millions of Americans don’t believe them. We’re not talking about conspiracy nuts or argumentative jerks. Your friends, co-workers, and family members disagree with fact-based arguments. There are three reasons why humans aren’t particularly good at processing logic. The first is simple: we aren’t Vulcans.
As a hodgepodge of emotions, humans “want to believe the things that we already believe,” according to the authors of a recent study. People who encounter facts that disturb their worldviews suffer “a phenomenon described as backfire…a natural defense mechanism to avoid cognitive dissonance.” In essence, “it’s threatening to us to admit that things we believe are wrong.” So we cling to our opinions, even when facts contradict them. Perhaps the study’s scariest finding is that “in some cases, that corrective information can actually make the problem worse.” That explains why some people, when presented with Obama’s birth certificate, shouted even more loudly that he was born in Kenya.
It all goes back to our origin as a species. When Australopithecus saw a saber-tooth at the watering hole, he didn’t do data sets to figure out the odds of the tiger returning. He just said, “All watering holes there bad.” Because of evolution, “our brain is sort of hard-wired to leap to conclusions very quickly.”
Evolution — and the denial of its existence, despite a century of scientific evidence — relates to the second reason why logic fails us. Faith, especially in the form of organized religion, encourages a suspension of disbelief. Faith in a supernatural deity is illogical, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem is when the thought process (“I believe in things I can’t see”) is applied to concepts that can be objectively analyzed. The strong religious component in this country encourages people to equate logic with belief, as if they are equally valid for assessing facts.
The third reason for our logic myopia is the misguided principle that everyone is an expert. It may be elitist to say, but some people are just too ignorant or delusional to be taken seriously. But in the age of mass media, we continue to listen when they say death panels are coming for grandma. So while everyone is certainly entitled, under the First Amendment, to propagate whatever delirium has captured his fancy, he isn’t entitled to his truthiness (and the spreading of his opinions as fact).
Now just to be clear, an aversion to logic afflicts everyone (although social conservatives seem more susceptible or are at least more vocal about it). As the study notes, every human has issues in this field, and “all of us, liberals and conservatives…have some beliefs that aren’t true.”
The best we can do is recognize it and fight against it.
By the way, two plus two apparently still equals four. But I’m not sure I believe that.