Friday, November 20, 2009

Why do peope repeat falsehoods?

A few months ago I saw a claim that if theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking were in Britain with its socialized medicine he would have been dead by now. I blew it off as another stupid comment but apparently this comment has gotten repeated all over the web. The problem of course is the it is not true as Larry Krauss reminds us in this article in Scientific American:

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=war-is-peace

So why do people repeat that sort of tripe?

Krauss asks

"What makes people so susceptible to nonsense in public discourse? Is it because we do such a miserable job in schools teaching what science is all about—that it is not a collection of facts or stories but a process for weeding out nonsense to get closer to the underlying beautiful reality of nature? Perhaps not."

My thought is that whether we are dealing with health care, global warming or various sorts of social issues, we get an emotional high from thinking we are going to win, pull the wool over our opponent's head. Or maybe repetition of simple nostrums and unexamined falsehoods provides us with a sense of security when dealing with the unknown. Maybe such behavior was at one point adaptive maintaining some sort of group cohesion.

Krauss phrases his arguments with examples from the right, but I don't think people of any ideology are immune to this. As I commented in a post to one of my readers it is if we are stuck in a strange attractor or the sort of cycling that a person's brain might get into when they are depressed and can't get out.

As Krauss so ably observes, quoting apparently from an earlier Krauss commentary:

“The increasingly blatant nature of the nonsense uttered with impunity in public discourse is chilling. Our democratic society is imperiled as much by this as any other single threat, regardless of whether the origins of the nonsense are religious fanaticism, simple ignorance or personal gain.”

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