This paper offers an epistemological discussion of self-validating belief systems and the recurrence of “epistemic defense mechanisms” and “immunizing strategies” across widely different domains of knowledge.
We challenge the idea that typical “weird” belief systems are inherently fragile, and we argue that, instead, they exhibit a surprising degree of resilience in the face of adverse evidence and criticism.
Borrowing from the psychological research on belief perseverance, rationalization and motivated reasoning, we argue that the human mind is particularly susceptible to belief systems that are structurally self-validating. Mencken once wrote that: “the most common of all follies is to believe passionately in the palpably not true. Mencken was clearly engaging in hyperbole, but he has some statistics on his side : according to a 1999 Gallup poll, 45% of all Americans believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that all living species were created by God in their present form.
Kennedy was a conspiracy, that the moon landing in 1969 never happened, or that the Bush administration was involved in the 9/11 attacks (a conspiracy theory that is also popular in found that ca.
25% of all persons questioned believe in astrology and around 20% believe that extraterrestrials have visited the earth recently.
Even higher numbers were found for the belief in haunted houses and communication with the dead.
Similarly, all over the world, sects and religious cults continue to attract followers.
In this paper, we discuss belief systems across widely different domains and focus on their self-validating nature as part of an explanation of their wide appeal and enduring popularity.
After an introductory section on the received view about weird beliefs and irrationality (section ).We proceed by analyzing the recurrence of certain epistemic defense mechanisms and immunizing strategies in many of the most widespread “irrational” belief systems.By demonstrating that these belief structures exhibit a remarkable degree of .Our epistemological approach is informed by, but not reducible to, the cognitive research on motivated reasoning and cognitive dissonance, and makes for a level of explanation in its own right.Finally, we show that the epistemic “engineering” of certain belief systems may well derive not from conscious deliberation on the part of believers, but from more subtle mechanisms of cultural selection (section The tenacity of belief systems that are highly implausible, or whose content contradicts well-established scientific knowledge, has often exasperated skeptical scientists and philosophers alike.Dyed-in-the-wool skeptics, however, have long come to realize that firm believers are very difficult to convince with evidence and rational arguments.