Is certainty worth anything?

Imagine you have a PhD in microbiology, with your specialty being the study of bacterial infections, and a person contacts you to inform you that you have been misled and brainwashed, and your belief in the germ theory of disease is like believing in a flat earth.


This happened to Dr Beth Mole. Her amusing report is rather long, but it’s entertaining, informative reading, and well worth a little time.

This man was concerned for Beth’s state of ignorance, and to “educate” her, pointed her to a Facebook group with currently 18,400 members, who just KNOW that bacteria are produced by the body when it is sick rather than the other way around, and viruses are the debris of destroyed cells, and neither lifeform is contagious.

I actually have an otherwise intelligent friend who believes that the Earth is a flat disk surrounded by a ring of ice. He is quite unreachable by scientific evidence, and can cite endless lists of “evidence” he got off the internet, which of course he knows to be beyond reproach.

His belief causes no harm. So what. This “germs don’t cause disease” people are something else. Their beliefs are directly causing suffering and hardship. But, excuse me, how can people believe such crap?

In my country, Australia, there are still members of parliament who genuinely “don’t believe” in the climate catastrophe that is causing such terrible disasters right now, and have done so in my country, in the country they are supposed to govern. They could not have got elected if they were idiots, so again, how can they be idiotic enough to see the world around us, and yet stick to their delusions?

The evidence from psychological research is clear: humans don’t acquire their beliefs by examining evidence then reaching a conclusion. Rather, we form a belief, then find the reasons why it should be true. This is behind the well-established process of cognitive dissonance (e.g., “Let’s make this a cash job. Why should we pay tax the politicians can use for their corrupt purposes?” from a person who knows himself to be absolutely honest, or “Doesn’t everyone occasionally slap his wife?”). It is also the power of Narrative Therapy: finding exceptions that don’t fit into a person’s created reality, and so forcing a reassessment.

We little earthlings are very good at wishful thinking.

Fortunately, over the past few hundred years, a method has evolved to minimise the effects of self-delusion, and to numerically estimate what’s left. This is the scientific method, which is the most powerful mental tool ever invented. Unfortunately, it is morally neutral: can be used as a tool for good or bad. It led to the Industrial Revolution, which is revolting, but it can also be used to understand and at least partly counter its effects.

One of the scariest developments of recent years has been the rejection of science by people like these ridiculous deniers of the effects of viruses and bacteria.

Do yourself a favour. When you have some time to fill, read up on the principles of the scientific method. It is dry stuff, not all that exciting, but if it was common knowledge, humanity and the wonderful natural world that keeps us alive would not be in this terrible mess.

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in environment, philosophy, Psychology. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Is certainty worth anything?

  1. pendantry says:

    We little earthlings are very good at wishful thinking.

    There’s nowt so queer as folk.

    Thanks for the link to Beth Mole’s article. Exactly as advertised! (And that faecesbook group ought to be shut down — I thought they had rules against spreading misinformation? Perhaps I’m wrong.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Oh I don’t know. You two are welcome to gossip here, I am going to bed.
      Facebook only shuts groups down if they stop making money for Facebook. But actually, I have just resolved that from now on, I will write facebook with a small eff. I think that’s what they deserve.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dr Bob Rich says:

    Thank you, Annie. Is there a link to it?
    The tragedy is that highly intelligent people can act with unbelievable stupidity.


  3. Annie Hill-Otness says:

    Just read a great article in Aeon magazine about stupidity…

    Liked by 1 person

Comments are closed.