Lawrence Krauss on (and off) conspiratorial thinking

I’m fascinated by plausibility these days, why one person can hear something and find it ridiculous and another person find it to be of earth-shattering significance. But I know a big part of it is that everyone thinks they’re a skeptic. Everyone. Which means not everyone is a good skeptic.

I’m going to go through this Lawrence Krauss video basically line for line because I felt like it was ratcheting back and forth on encouraging then discouraging conspiratorial thinking.

I like to keep an open mind, but not so open my brains fall out

I think I’ll chalk this up as anti-conspiratorial. As much as conspiratorial thinkers like to say the mainstream have no brains the idea of being so open minded you become an idiot is the spirit of the quote.

We have to skeptically assess the information we receive, we can’t be gullible because when we get a lot of information it’s absolutely certain that some of that information is wrong

I’ll call this conspiratorial because people love to think everyone except them and people who agree with them are gullible. I find the comment about some of that information being wrong really interesting because in the conspiracy community I see this silly idea that all information is important, that everything is a piece of the puzzle, there’s not even coincidences, and it drives me nuts.

When someone tells you something you have to ask is this consistent with my experience? Is it consistent with other people around me? And if isn’t, there’s probably a good reason to be skeptical of it, it’s probably wrong.

This drives conspiracy thinkers nuts, the idea of consensus reality. What’s really interesting for me though is that ‘consistent with my experience’ is true for conspiracy thinkers and conspiracy skeptics alike. Upon hearing a conspiracy people either find it plausible or not and I’m fascinated by that. Distrust is so high that people can find anything plausible if you tell them someone doesn’t want them to know it.

We should never take anything on faith, that’s really the mantra of science

This a conspiratorial mantra. And yet I think distrust has become a kind of faith of it’s own. I watched a video claiming to prove the Orlando nightclub shooting was a hoax (as an aside I hate that every shooting is a hoax to take away guns and conspiracy thinkers don’t acknowledge that guns laws never change and sales always go up. If it’s a conspiracy it’s been woefully counterproductive) and the assumption that it was a hoax, the faith that shootings are hoaxes, caused people to read into the behaviour of a woman who’s son was murdered and when she was rational she was too rational and that meant it was a hoax, and if she was irrational that proved the script was terrible.

The thing is everyone considers themselves a skeptic. It’s not that mainstream thinkers believe what they’re told by authority, it’s that they don’t believe what they’re told by conspiracists.

Skepticism plays a key role in science because we are hardwired to want to believe, hardwired to want to find reasons for things. In the Savannah of Africa the trees could be rustling and you could choose to say there’s no reason for that or maybe it’s due to a lion. Those individuals who thought there maybe no reason never lived long to procreate. So it’s not too surprising we want to find reasons for everything and we create them if we need to.

This is what I credit with conspiratorial thinking, the wanting to find reasons for things. The world has millions of competing forces and interests in it, far too much to understand, so the desire to have everything explained kicks in and the invisible hand of conspiracy makes everything simple. Conspiracy fills the god-spot, in some ways.

What makes sense to the universe is not the same as what makes sense to us and we can’t impose our beliefs on the universe.

The earth isn’t flat. It just seems that way from your point of view. And when you start declaring everything that doesn’t align with your point of view a hoax or a conspiracy you’re not being a skeptic, you’re not even being dogmatic. I can have a sliver of respect for people who are dogmatic, dogmatism is saying you don’t understand every tenant of your holy book (or secular equivalent) but you’re going to treat it with the same regard as the tenants you do. The perpetual state of distrust is sort of the opposite of that. The post truth world is about claiming everything is equally meaningless when you don’t like it’s source.

The way we get around that inherent bias is constantly questioning both ourselves all the information we receive from others

Conspiracy thinkers love the idea of questioning everything. What they miss is the part about questioning themselves, wondering why they’re primed to believe some things and not others.

There are a few questions you should ask yourself right away, first of all you can ask yourself ‘do I like this answer?’ and if you do you should be suspicious

Thank you. People tend to stop thinking about things when they get the answer they want without realizing it was the answer they already came in with.

Another thing you can do, especially if you get information from a source you don’t know, look at many different sources and see if they all agree, if they all agree it doesn’t mean they’re right…

Something you see all the time these days is one actual source saying something, dozens of people quoting or supporting that source, and then dozens more saying they’re are dozens of sources, and then it’s treated as just something ‘everybody knows’

Science doesn’t prove what’s absolutely true, what science does is prove what’s absolutely false

Thank you. One thing culture needs to get away from is that ‘science’ is this voice from a tower declaring that what used to be true isn’t and giving us modern, inevitably disposed, truths.

What doesn’t satisfy the test of experiment, we throw out

As an aside this is why not to believe in god. And really god is the ultimate conspiracy theory. Whether or not a god exists is immaterial but it’s a fact that every test ever devised and any test you could devise will never show any data that supports a god hypotheses so for any use you might have for god it’s pragmatic to look somewhere else.

That is why we shouldn’t turn to echo chambers and just read the sources that we like. Now having said that if you look at many sources you can also decide which ones are not reliable and throw them out.

It’s this sort of thinking that got us into the state of distrust, unfortunately. If the New York Times, with it’s prize winning teams of investigators and the fact that it’s under a massive cultural microscope, has to issue a retraction or even fire some people it’s taken as confirmation that everything they say is untrustworthy. Despite the fact that the reason we know about it is often their own internal method of correcting course. This leads people to start believing single, anonymous, untestable sources not because they’re true but because they offer the counter narrative to the sources we’ve already decided are untrue.

When I talk about being skeptical it’s important to recognize that you can be surprised

This is something I’m guilty as much as anyone, I’m never surprised. But then again that’s because I’m always thinking and trying to find surprising angles to think about.

 

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