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Why Do Rational People Believe Irrational Things?

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Posted by Harvey on September 24, 2003 18:19:39 UTC

The list goes on as to what makes an otherwise rational mind into an irrational mind, but excusing religion, family ties, national ties, occupation, etc, we still have the problem of otherwise rational people who just seem to stumble. This is the group that raises my curiosity.

Usually there is a 'gap' in that person's thinking that causes their particular viewpoint to get hung-up on certain irrational concepts. Let's take Dick Stafford for example. Where does Dick actually go wrong in his perspective? I think the answer is that beyond the egotism, arrogance, illusions of grandeur, persecution complexes, etc, there is a small but significant intellectual misconception where all of his 'model of reality' stems. The majority of his anti- stance stems from real philosophical issues, which is what makes Dick's anti- stance to science such a stickler. However, if all of his complaints boiled down to the philosophy of science, then we might see an anti-realist without the nut toppings.

So, from my vast experience in discussions with Dick, my gut tells me that the intellectual mishap that Dick makes is his ontological bias that science must p-r-o-v-e itself beyond the inductive method, and that if science can't do it with some kind of deductive argument, then the terroritory is open for another approach that utilizes deduction. In other words, Dick is afflicted by Hume who was the first major philosopher to show the problem with scientific induction (hence the name, "Hume's problem of induction").

The fault is not so much Dick's rejection of the induction method, it is his naive reliance on some form of deduction. The fact that he sees his deductive approach as the only true approach, etc, is a factor of his personality traits. So, what led to Dick's misconceptions, a lack of early training in the philosophy of science.

I think what this shows is that philosophy of science should be taught early in high school, especially to the scientific and mathematically inclined students. Although irrational thoughts cannot be ridden by philosophy, it does at least prevent the kind of simmering of irrationalism that leads to the kind of bizarre beliefs we sometimes see on this forum (e.g., Dick's model of reality).

Of course, proper philosophical education is no cure all for irrational beliefs, but if students are given early in their education the limitations as well as the successes of science from philosophy's perspective (versus science's perspective), then it will help with the problem. I don't think Dick Stafford would have studied physics had he been exposed to the philosophy of science. He would have probably gravitated to philosophy, or, at least, lost complete interest in philosophy and would have followed the "shut-up and calculate!" advice of his thesis advisor.

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