Faulty thinking feeds not only religious thinking, but also thinking on medicine, politics, linguistics and more. How should we approach faulty thinking? Charging at the faulty logic of someone’s particular beliefs is one approach. But if this is one’s only approach, then ironically their understanding of the human mind and human behavior may be faulty. Rationality crusaders may have false beliefs about human behavior.
Yes, improving logic and knowledge (education) has been shown to decrease superstitious religion. Yet highly educated people still consume bad thinking. Well, I do, how about you? Faulty thinking thrives even in educated, prosperous countries. So it appears that faulty thinking may have benefits for which otherwise educated people are willing to sacrifice rationality. So, to attack wrong beliefs as if they were mere stupidity is to misunderstand how people use beliefs.
Besides frontal attacks on wrong beliefs, a better strategy can sometimes be created by understanding a faulty idea’s function: how an idea serves people rather than just the truth of the idea. Since all thoughts are tied to emotions, ideas and beliefs are far more than just cognitive truth maps. Ideas, even when they are false can still offer hope, comfort, inspiration and more. Watch people buy lottery tickets, suck up infomercials, sign up for pyramid schemes, run to healing services.
Today I read Steven Novella’s blog “Science-Based Medicine” which is devoted to fighting ineffective medicines pushed in the supplement and alternative medicine industries which he cleverly labels with the pejorative acronym: “SCAM” (supplements and complementary and alternative medicine). In today’s post Steven wondered if he needs to develop a new strategy for fighting SCAM.
“My perspective of most SCAM has been focused on the truth and reality of their claims, but truth and reality have little to do with advertising…”
“The tools of rational thought and science may not be the best approach for a industry, SCAM, that is based advertising. I need a different perspective to analyze SCAM, that of the psychology of desire. Not why people believe weird things, but why they buy weird things.”
Please remember that I am an ex-practitioner of both Oriental Medicine and Homeopathy. This post is not intended to discuss the merits or shortcomings of either alternative nor orthodox medicine.
Whether it is religion, medicine, politics or investments, in order to change people’s faulty behavior, rather than focusing on their illogical, irrational, inconsistent and faulty beliefs, it is sometimes more effective to understand how people actually think-feel-act.
Often, more effective than surgically isolating a person’s belief from their life and arguing against its irrationality, sometimes it is more important to understand how their faulty thinking serves them. Rather than relentlessly hammer on the thoughts you think people should have or should not have, it may be helpful to understand how their beliefs actually work in their lives.
This post is part of a series on the nature of belief.