Thursday, June 18, 2009

Why Conspiracy Theorists Believe

Whether it's a group of people who maintain that the government is hiding evidence of alien life somewhere within Area 51, or citizens that claim the Apollo moon landings were actually performed on a soundstage in North Hollywood, conspiracy theorists are known primarily for two things - having beliefs slightly outside the norm, and sticking steadfastly to those beliefs regardless of any contradictory evidence that's presented.

So why do conspiracy buffs think this way? Would you believe that it goes back to when you were a child, drawing pictures of the sun?

Scientific American delves into the concept of agenticity - the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents.

Actually, it's a combination of things - “patternicity,” which the author defines as the human tendency to find meaningful patterns in meaningless noise, and agenticity. Finding patterns became an important skills back in the early days of man, where knowing the the sky was growing dark and the wind was picking up meant a storm was on the way, so you could take cover. Or the rustle over in the tall grass might mean a lion was creeping up to have you for lunch, so it was in your best interest to avoid the grassy patch during times of rustling.

But we struggle with true and false patterns, and are not always able to tell the difference. One of the down sides of being human, I guess.

Studies in cognitive neuroscience have shown that we eagerly find patterns and impart agency to them. As noted in the article, kids often have the idea that the sun can think and follows them around, so they often add in smiley faces when they draw pictures of the sun.

The article further notes:
“Many highly educated and intelligent individuals experience a powerful sense that there are patterns, forces, energies and entities operating in the world,” Hood explains. “More important, such experiences are not substantiated by a body of reliable evidence, which is why they are supernatural and unscientific. The inclination or sense that they may be real is our supersense.”

So don't think these folks are wacky or from another planet. They just like smiles on their suns.

Why People Believe Intelligent Agents Control The World , via Scientific American

1 comment:

  1. Alls a conspiracy theory needs to be valid is absence of evidence to the contrary. Even conspiracy theories are conspiracies. Having said that, the world is not a theory, it's a conspiracy.


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