I love anything having to do with the brain and how our brains perceive and interpret the world. If you’re like me, I think you’ll love this one.
From the YouTube video description:
Some people believe that your brain encodes its actual meaning in reverse within everything you say.
Just when you thought there was nobody in the world crazier than yourself, along come people who believe that we all subconsciously say what we really mean in reverse, through the unconscious but deliberate choosing of careful words which, if played backwards, say what we actually mean. Get it? The idea is that I think some coffee is really horrible but I still want to be polite, my brain will subconsciously choose words to make my polite compliment that, if played backwards, would say: This coffee stinks.
Proponents of this hypothesis call it Reverse Speech, because they were really creatively inspired on the day they named it. This is a small group of people — I believe there were six of them at last count — who take this completely seriously and believe that a whole world of secret information and opportunities is waiting to be unlocked by analyzing peoples’ speech in reverse. They turn first to world leaders, play their speeches backward, and listen to learn what they believe is the truth underlying the speech.
A leading advocate for reverse speech, also called backward masking, is David John Oates, an Australian. He’s written several books on the subject and even used to have a syndicated radio show promoting his theory. Just about any time a reverse speech expert is interviewed on television, it’s David John Oates. His web site is ReverseSpeech.com, and it’s loaded with all the examples you could ever hope to hear, as well as quite a few products and services he’d like to sell you if you believe his claims. He believes strongly that the human brain secretly encodes its actual meaning in reverse into a person’s normal speech. You can use this to your advantage in business, by decoding what the people across the table are actually telling you; and you can even use it in personal development by listening to your own speech backwards and learning more about what you really want. One of the examples from ReverseSpeech.com is of this man giving a talk:
And when you play it backwards, turns out he was trying to comfort you with the message “You’re frightened, lean on me”:
Pretty interesting, but not necessarily convincing to a skeptic. A skeptic is more likely to dismiss these guys as conspiracy nuts and laugh at what paranoid delusionals they are, but it’s actually way cooler and more interesting (and more constructive) to ask if there is any science behind what they’re claiming. I’m not talking about science supporting the claim that people say what they actually mean in reverse; I’m talking about science behind the perception of order from chaos. And, it turns out, there is good science behind it. The journal Science published an article in 1981 by Remez, Rubin, Pisoni, and Carrell called Speech perception without traditional speech cues. By playing what they called a “three-tone sinusoidal replica”, or a complicated sine wave sound, they found that people were able to perceive speech, when in fact there were no traditional speech sounds present in the signal. So rather than laughing at a reverse speech advocate, instead appreciate the fact that there is good science driving their perception of what they’re hearing. They’re not making anything up, they’re just unaware of the natural explanation for their phenomenon.
To better understand what these authors did in their experiment, listen to this brief cue consisting of nothing but sine waves:
It almost does sound like speech, doesn’t it? But it’s not quite clear what it’s saying. Well, suppose someone told you that it says:
Now listen to it again:
This time, it’s almost impossible not to hear the words that you’ve been preconditioned to hear. Let’s play another one, this one is harder . . .
Do you know someone who has had a mind altering experience like the examples that we list in this FREE PDF booklet? If so, you know how compelling they can be. A life can be changed or an entire religion founded on the basis of a single brain-generated hallucination. These phenomena are so powerful that throughout history seekers of knowledge have sought to induce them. They are one of the foundations of widespread belief in the paranormal. But as skeptics are well aware, accepting them as reality can be more than a waste of time and energy. It can be dangerous for both the individual and larger society.
While science has made considerable progress in discovering how the brain is hard-wired to produce these illusions, the public is largely unaware of much of this research. This is where your Skeptics Society comes in—we provide the scientific explanation.
Holy crap. This woman accuses a postal worker of stalking her! Here is the video she took of her confrontation with the poor guy.
Is this lady serious?
If she IS serious, this video shows how one wackadoo’s delusions can escalate into somebody getting hurt. What if she was prone to violence and she truly believed this poor guy was stalking her? She could have pulled out a weapon.
If i were this postal worker i would have put some space between myself and her delusion by closing the truck door. I certainly wouldn’t have turned my back on this nut job.
Leave your thoughts in the comments. :)
It starts out in Russian, the English begins at the 0:50 mark. The description below the video has been translated from Russian to English by Google Translate.
I have my fingers crossed. :)
Description via Google Translate:
Paul Zenon is one of the most famous British magicians with extensive experience in the representation of different tricks, illusions, frauds and paranormal topics. It has several hundred appearances in television shows and almost 30 years experience in participating in public. Began to earn money as a street magician and learns how people can be fooled and manipulated. Then apply their practical knowledge of human psychology and attention to good causes like exposing pseudoscientific “stars”.
Gender Ratio of Zeno presented the most common techniques of mediums, illustrated with examples from the past few centuries. Cold reading (cold reading) and pre-collect information about companion enjoy the same frequency as in the 19th century and television fortune-tellers today.
When someone looks at me and earnestly says, “I know what I saw,” I am fond of replying, “No you don’t.” You have a distorted and constructed memory of a distorted and constructed perception, both of which are subservient to whatever narrative your brain is operating under.
One of the more dramatic aspects of memory distortion is false memories. These can be completely fabricated memories that are indistinguishable from genuine memories. False memories can involve small details, or entire scenarios. One way to fabricate false memories is with suggestion – just suggesting to someone a detail of an experience they had may cause them to incorporate that detail into their memory of the experience.
The apparent reason for this is that our brains appear to favor consistency over accuracy. Memories are updated to bring them into line with our current knowledge. If we are told that the person was wearing a blue jacket, then our memory might change so that it is consistent with what we now believe to be true.
Psychologists have a number of ways of generating false memories in the lab. One method is to show subjects a video of an event. Then allow them to read a written description of the same event, containing or even just suggesting details that differ from the video. A certain percentage of subjects will incorporate the suggested but incorrect details into their memory. When asked they will “remember” those details in the video.
A new study combines false memory research with the effects of sleep deprivation. It is becoming increasingly clear that sleep plays a major role in memory formation and consolidation. Steven J. Frenda of the University of California, Irvine and his colleagues asked a simple question – would sleep deprivation increase the formation of false memories?
They had subjects view photos of a crime, then . . .
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) assessment is a psychometric questionnaire designed to measure psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions. These preferences were extrapolated by Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers from the typological theories proposed by Carl Gustav Jung, and first published in his 1921 book Psychological Types (English edition, 1923). Jung theorized that there are four principal psychological functions by which we experience the world: sensation, intuition, feeling, and thinking. One of these four functions is dominant most of the time.
The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is probably the most widely used personality test in the world.
An estimated 2 million people take it annually, at the behest of corporate HR departments, colleges, and even government agencies. The company that makes and markets the test makes somewhere around $20 million each year.
The only problem? The test is completely meaningless.
“There’s just no evidence behind it,” says Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania who’s written about the shortcomings of the Myers-Briggs previously. “The characteristics measured by the test have almost no predictive power on how happy you’ll be in a situation, how you’ll perform at your job, or how happy you’ll be in your marriage.”
The test claims that, based on 93 questions, it can group all the people of the world into 16 different discrete “types” — and in doing so, serve as “a powerful framework for building better relationships, driving positive change, harnessing innovation, and achieving excellence.” Most of the faithful think of it primarily as a tool for telling you your proper career choice.
But the test was developed in the 1940s based off the untested theories of an outdated analytical psychologist named Carl Jung, and is now thoroughly disregarded by the psychology community. Even Jung warned that his personality “types” were just rough tendencies he’d observed, rather than strict classifications. Several analyses have shown the test is totally ineffective at predicting people’s success in various jobs, and that about half of the people who take it twice get different results each time.
Yet you’ve probably heard people telling you that they’re an ENFJ (extraverted intuitive feeling judging), an INTP (introverted intuitive thinking perceiving), or another one of the 16 types drawn from his work, and you may have even been given this test in a professional setting. Here’s an explanation of why these labels are so meaningless — and why no organization in the 21st century should rely on the test for anything.
I was in a discussion forum and somebody asked me to explain The Texas Sharpshooter Fallacy. I started typing when i remembered a video from several years ago that will explain it better than i can write it.
Enjoy, my friend :)
Michael Shermer says the human tendency to believe strange things — from alien abductions to dowsing rods — boils down to two of the brain’s most basic, hard-wired survival skills.
Intro by Mason I. Bilderberg
I’m not one to sit and watch lengthy videos on my laptop. So when i suggest you watch a 49 minute video, you can trust me – it’s worth watching.
Have you ever heard of Derren Brown? I’ve been following Derren Brown for over a decade, i’ve read many of his books and i think i’ve seen all of his performances. I’m never disappointed.
Here is how WikiPedia describes him:
Derren Brown (born 27 February 1971) is a British illusionist, mentalist, trickster, hypnotist, painter, writer, and sceptic. He is known for his appearances in television specials, stage productions, and British television series such as Trick of the Mind and Trick or Treat. Since the first broadcast of his show Derren Brown: Mind Control in 2000, Brown has become increasingly well known for his mind-reading act. He has written books for magicians as well as the general public.
From Derren Brown’s webpage (2012):
Dubbed a ‘psychological illusionist’ by the Press, Derren Brown is a performer who combines magic, suggestion, psychology, misdirection and showmanship in order to seemingly predict and control human behaviour, as well as performing mind-bending feats of mentalism.
In a nutshell, while repeatedly reminding us he doesn’t have any kind of magical abilities, Derren Brown mimics with perfection all those who DO claim to have magical abilities.
In this video, Derren takes on the following roles:
He is so convincing in these roles that he gets endorsements for his “special powers” from the “experts” who witnessed his performances.
I believe he will convince you too!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
I’ve recently written about conspiracy theories, which means I have been recently attacked by conspiracy theorists. I thought I’d take a moment to briefly reflect on the evolution of conspiracy theorist…
The conspiracy theorist is, of course, not a new breed of human. All the basic psychological building blocks of conspiracy thinking are inherent in the human psyche, including distrust of authority, wanting “inside information,” and real or imagined persecution-and, to be fair, often a dearth of critical thinking skills such as the ability (or desire) to separate anonymous rumor from established fact.
The conspiracy theory is at its heart a profoundly populist notion. It’s the common man demanding a peek behind the curtains of power-power in the form of information. Knowledge is power and information is the currency of conspiracists. For millennia there were no conspiracy theorists to speak of because most people had little or no access to independent information. News traveled very slowly from region to region, and anyway it didn’t really matter because there wasn’t much news anyway (“uncle Abraham’s cow died, more news as it happens”). Information and knowledge about the world came mostly from religious leaders. What went on in distant lands (or even neighboring countries) had little relevance to most people who spent their lives farming or fishing, living and dying without ever having strayed more than a few hundred miles from their birthplace.
The invention of the moveable type printing press was a boon to conspiracy theorists for the simple reason that books and knowledge was transportable. Instead of one source of knowledge there were dozens, or perhaps hundreds, and in some cases the authors had different viewpoints on the same subjects. As the old saying goes, a man with one watch knows what time it is, but a man with two watches is never sure. If two authors disagreed, then someone claiming to be an authority was wrong-or even perhaps intentionally deceptive and intentionally hiding a truth.
Modern technology helped give birth to the modern conspiracy theorist as well. Decades ago conspiracy theorists largely relied on short-wave radio and crude stapled-and-photocopied mailings to gain followers and spread their enlightened truths. In the 1980s personal computers allowed conspiracy writers to create much more professional publications-in appearance, if not content-as well as “underground” magazines. One fascinating exception is the curious case of the . . .
I consider myself a collector of sorts. I collect strange, bizarre notions and theories that warp traditional narratives about reality and existence. The following is a presentation of 10 of my favorite mind-blowing theories. There is compelling evidence for each, but you certainly don’t – and, for the sake of your sanity, probably shouldn’t – need to take them as gospel.
1 • The Singularity: We will transcend biology and live as posthuman Gods
Futurists like Ray Kurzweil say in the coming decades humans will experience a technological singularity by which we will transcend biology itself. Intelligent civilizations such as ours, says Kurzweil, are destined to evolve into super-intelligent, possibly machine-based beings whose computational powers grow exponentially.
After such a singularity, we would be able to harness the power of our own sun in order to accomplish interstellar feats only dreamed of in science fiction, such as creating Dyson Spheres and literally saturating the known universe with consciousness.
Some progressive thinkers like Noam Chomsky have labeled the theory science fiction, while others question the classist undertones of the theory’s transhumanist enthusiasts.
2 • Project Bluebeam: the Government Will Engineer a False Flag Supernatural Alien Invasion
Project Blue Beam is a highly controversial conspiracy theory. Originally proposed by Canadian journalist Serge Monast in 1994, it holds that the New World Order will use advanced holographic technology in order to create a false flag alien invasion and/or a worldwide religious “awakening” in order to achieve servitude by the masses and acceptance of a one world government and religion and possibly depopulation efforts as well.
There are supposedly 4 parts to the implementation of Project Blue Beam. These stages include:
3 • Our handlers use Predictive Programming To Plan, Communicate, and Brainwash
Predictive programming is the idea that society embeds messages into pop culture media and other modes of transmission in order to psychologically prepare and incubate the general population for certain events. It is, of course, a conspiracy theory,
Many people maintain instances of predictive programming are simply coincidences on par with synchronicity and Déjà vu; others say they are sinister calling cards for shadow groups who communicate across media channels through coded signals.
4 • Human DNA contains the signature of an alien creator
New evidence is suggesting that instead of searching the stars with telescopes, we should have been searching our DNA with microscopes. Vladimir I. shCherbak of al-Farabi Kazakh National University of Kazakhstan, and Maxim A. Makukov of the Fesenkov Astrophysical Institute claim they have discovered an intelligent signal inside human DNA. In this case, “biological SETI” as it’s known, involves “arithmetical and ideographical patterns of symbolic language.”
Whenever the discussion of a dualist vs materialist model of the mind comes up, one common point made to support the dualist position (that the mind is something other than or more than just the functioning of the brain) is that the brain may not be the origin of the mind, but rather is just the receiver. Often an explicit comparison is made to radios or televisions.
The brain as receiver hypothesis, however, is wholly inadequate to explain the relationship between the brain and the mind, as I will explain below.
As an example of the brain-receiver argument, David Eagleman writes in his book Incognito:
As an example, I’ll mention what I’ll call the “radio theory” of brains. Imagine that you are a Kalahari Bushman and that you stumble upon a transistor radio in the sand. You might pick it up, twiddle the knobs, and suddenly, to your surprise, hear voices streaming out of this strange little box. If you’re curious and scientifically minded, you might try to understand what is going on. You might pry off the back cover to discover a little nest of wires. Now let’s say you begin a careful, scientific study of what causes the voices. You notice that each time you pull out the green wire, the voices stop. When you put the wire back on its contact, the voices begin again. The same goes for the red wire. Yanking out the black wire causes the voices to get garbled, and removing the yellow wire reduces the volume to a whisper. You step carefully through all the combinations, and you come to a clear conclusion: the voices depend entirely on the integrity of the circuitry. Change the circuitry and you damage the voices.
He argues that the Bushman might falsely conclude that the wires in the radio produce the voices by some unknown mechanism, because he has no knowledge of electromagnetic radiation and radio technology.
This point also came up several times in the 600+ comments following my post on the Afterlife Debate. Commenter Luoge, for example, wrote:
“But the brain-as-mediator model has bot yet been ruled out. We can tamper with a TV set and modify its behaviour just as a neurosurgeon can do with a brain. We can shut down some, or all, of its functioning, and we can stimulate to show specific responses. And yet no neurologist is known to have thought that the TV studio was inside the TV set.”
There are two reasons to reject the brain-as-mediator model – it does not explain the intimate relationship between brain and mind, and (even if it could) it is entirely unnecessary.
To deal with the latter point first, I have used the example of the light-fairy. When I flip the light switch on my wall, the materialist model holds that I am closing a circuit, allowing electricity to flow through the wires in my wall to a specific appliance (such as a light fixture). That light fixture contains a light bulb which adds resistance to the circuit and uses the electrical energy to heat an element in order to produce light and heat.
One might hypothesize, however, that an invisible light fairy lives in my wall. When I flip the switch the fairy flies to the fixture where it draws energy from the electrical wires, and then creates light and heat that it causes to radiate from the bulb. The light bulb is not producing the light and heat, it is just a conduit for the light fairy’s light and heat.
There is no way you can prove that my light fairy does not exist. It is simply entirely unnecessary, and adds nothing to our understanding of reality. The physics of electrical circuits do a fine job of accounting for the behavior of the light switch and the light. There is no need to invoke light bulb dualism.
The same is true of the brain and the mind, the only difference being that both are a lot more complex.
More importantly, however, we have enough information to rule out the brain-as-receiver model unequivocally.
The examples often given of the radio or TV analogy are very telling. They refer to altering the quality of the reception, the volume, even changing the channel. But those are only the crudest analogies to the relationship between brain and mind.
A more accurate analogy would be this – can you alter the wiring of a TV in order to change the plot of a TV program? Can you change a sitcom into a drama? Can you change the dialogue of the characters? Can you stimulate one of the wires in the TV in order to make one of the on-screen characters twitch?
Well, that is what would be necessary in order for the analogy to hold.
If there is a group of people I hate arguing with even more than I hate arguing with young-earth creationists, it’s the conspiracy theorists.
At least the young-earth creationists just think I’m working for Satan, a charge that I can understand, considering their view of things. Sure, we don’t accept the same ground rules for proof (evidence versus revelation); sure, we have different conclusions regarding where you can apply the laws of scientific inference (damn near everywhere versus only places where it doesn’t conflict with Holy Writ).
But at least we can talk. The conspiracy theorists, you can’t even have a civil discussion with. They accuse you of either being stupid or else working for evil humans, both of which are in my opinion worse than working for Satan because stupidity and evil humans actually exist. The worst part, though, is that they pretend to accept the principles of rational argument, but then when it comes down to the point, they don’t, really. You can bring out the best-researched study about the efficacy and safety of vaccines, the most convincing argument that 9/11 and Sandy Hook were not “inside jobs” or “false flags,” the most persuasive evidence out there that HAARP has nothing to do with raising tsunamis or causing earthquakes.
And where does it get you? They just write you off as a dupe or a shill. It’s the ultimate example of the False Dilemma Fallacy; if you don’t agree with us, you’re one of…. Them.
The problem in this country has gotten so bad that Kurt Eichenwald did a big piece in Vanity Fair on the topic this week, and you all should read it. In fact, everyone in the civilized world should read it, because it’s brilliant, even though it’s depressing. I’ll give you a brief passage from it, but then I want you to go to the link and read the whole thing:
(W)e have become scientific and political illiterates, and no nation can survive on a bedrock of such delusional stupidity. Of course, the 26 percent (or more) won’t believe me, if they manage to read this. I’ll just be deemed an “elitist” for daring to suggest that demon science and data, rather than ridiculous conspiracy theories, should be used to judge reality. So, it may be a losing battle, but we should all try. I don’t want to be forced, someday, to stand by as the rest of the world renames our nation “America the Ignorant.”
It’s a bit of a coincidence that I should come across this when I did, because it came on the heels of another article, one sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia, that details one of the most pervasive and bizarre conspiracy theories out there: that the US government in general, and FEMA (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) in particular, are laying plans to kill us all.
Apparently, the whole thing is supposed to be carried out via guillotine, which is at least creative, if messy.
And here, we find out what they have in store for us:
Code ICD 9 E 978 Makes Execution by Guillotine Legal Under Obamacare. The specific code sent to me will make any American’s hair stand up on the back of their neck. The code is ICD 9 E 978. After reading this code I decided that it was my duty to investigate further and get to the bottom of why we have a medical code in the United States for “Legal Execution.” The Jesuits are behind most conspiracies and this one is no different… Execution by Guillotine is painless.
And I’m thinking: what the fuck does Obamacare have to do with this? Was that just something extra to throw in, along with the Jesuits for some reason, the way that the anti-GMO crowd will throw in the name “Monsanto” as a stand-in for Hitler?
At least they tossed us the cheerful tidbit that getting your head sliced off is painless. I’m relieved, actually, considering what other methods they could have chosen.
Every skeptic’s new favorite website is Spurious Correlations. The site is brilliant – it mines multiple data sets (such as causes of death, consumption of various products, divorce rates by state, etc.) and then tries to find correlations between different variables. The results are often hilarious.
The point of this exercise is to demonstrate that correlation does not necessarily equal causation. Often it is more effective to demonstrate a principle than simply to explain it. By showing impressive looking graphical correlations between phenomena that are clearly not related (at least proposing a causal connection superficially seems absurd.), it drives home the point that correlation is not enough to conclude causation.
I think most people can intuitively understand that funding on science, space, and technology is unlikely to have a meaningful causal connection to suicide by hanging, strangulation, or suffocation.
Yet – look at those curves. If a similar graph were shown with two variables that might be causally connected, that would seem very compelling.
There are a couple of points about this I want to explore a bit further. First is the important caveat that, while correlation is not necessarily causation, sometimes it is. Two variables that are causally related would correlate. I dislike the oversimplification that is sometimes presented: “correlation is not causation.” But it can be.
The second point is a statistical one. The important deeper lesson here is the power of data mining. Humans are great at sifting through lots of data and finding apparent patterns. In fact we have a huge bias toward false positives in this regard – we find patterns that are not really there but are just statistical flukes or complete illusions.
Correlations, however, seem compelling to us. If we dream about a friend we haven’t seen in 20 years then they call us the next day, that correlation seems uncanny, and we hunt for a cause. We aren’t even aware of the fact that . . .
Benjamin Radford via LiveScience
Many identical twins — perhaps as many as one in five — claim to share a special psychic connection. About one out of every 30 babies born in the United States is a twin, and identical twins are especially interesting because they have the same genes and are alike in many ways. Brothers and sisters can be close, but some twins claim to know what the other is thinking or feeling. It’s an intriguing idea, but what’s the truth behind it? Coincidence, psychic powers or something else?
This sort of psychological connection isn’t necessarily mysterious, of course: any two people who know each other very well and who have shared many common experiences — including non-twin siblings, old married couples, and even best friends — may complete each other’s sentences and have a pretty good idea about what the other person is thinking.
The idea of twin telepathy has been around for well over a century. It appears, for example, in the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novella “The Corsican Brothers.” It tells the story of two once-conjoined brothers who were separated at birth yet even as adults continue to share not only thoughts but also physical sensations. As one twin describes, “However far apart we are now we still have one and the same body, so that whatever impression, physical or mental, one of us perceives has its after-effects on the other.” The 2013 best-selling novel “Sisterland” by Curtis Sittenfeld also tells the story of twin girls who share a psychic connection.
Most of the evidence for twin telepathy is not scientific but instead anecdotal.
If you think about it, memory is an astounding thing. At will, our brains can dig back through the archives and pull out the sights, sounds, smells, sensations, and emotions from a day long gone. All those memories have one pretty obvious thing in common—everything about an experience is recorded from a first-person perspective. But what happens if your memory is not in first-person.
Some people go through what is commonly referred to as “out-of-body experiences,” where they feel a sense of detachment from their body as if they were somehow floating above it. This and related “dissociative” phenomena can be a part of posttraumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia, for example. The people who have out-of-body experiences often seem to have difficulty recalling these experiences with the usual amount of detail. That could be a clue about how our memories work, but how could you design an experiment to test the possibilities?
Loretxu Bergouignan and Henrik Ehrsson of Sweden’s Karolinska Institute and Umeå University’s Lars Nyberg have an answer. They utilized a setup that simulates the feeling of an out-of-body experience by transporting a subject’s perception of sight and sound across the room. (Science writer Ed Yong has first-hand knowledge of this non-first-person experience.) Subjects wear a virtual-reality-like display connected to stereo cameras and microphones that can be placed elsewhere. Under controlled conditions (holding still, etc.) the illusion can be quite profound.
In order to test the effect this has on memory, the researchers staged situations intended to be memorable. The participants—64 university students—were given some reading materials on several topics and told they would be given an oral exam. After they studied up, they donned the virtual reality gear. The cameras were placed in a few different configurations: either just above and behind the student’s head to match a normal perspective, on the opposite side of the room pointing back at themselves, or a few feet to their right. To reinforce the out-of-body illusion, one person walked up to the cameras and repeatedly extended a rod toward a point below them while another poked the student’s actual chest synchronously.
At this point, a professional actor playing the role of an “eccentric professor” entered the room, sat in a chair facing the student, and began to . . .
Via CrashCourse @ YouTube
You may think you know all about hypnosis from the movies. Zoolander, The Manchurian Candidate, etc… but there’s a whole lot more going on. In this episode of Crash Course Psychology, Hank tells us about some of the many altered states of consciousness, including hypnosis.
We like to categorize and apply labels. This can be helpful in wrapping your mind around complex reality, as long as you avoid the pitfall of allowing labels to become mental straitjackets.
I often discuss various categories of people who are failing, in one or more important ways, to apply critical thinking. These categories are not meant to be dismissive, but rather to help understand various styles of thinking that lead people astray. For example there are deniers, true-believers, ideologues, and cranks.
Perhaps the most interesting category is the conspiracy theorist. I also find them to be the most consistent in their style of reasoning and argument. I do wonder, however, how much of this consistency is due to and underlying reasoning style and how much is culture. When I get the same fallacious argument over and over again, is that because they are all reading the same source material?
I recently came across a conspiracy website offering advice on how to answer “anti-conspiracy theorists” (their word for skeptics). Anyone who has had a conversation with a conspiracy theorist will recognize the style and tone, and now here it is codified in a primer for budding conspiracy theorists.
The article, however, also reveals the logical errors that underlie the conspiracy belief system. Let’s go through each point.
“You sound like a conspiracy theorist.”RESPONSE: “Conspiracy Theorist? Now tell me the truth, where did you hear that term…on TV? (Laugh.) …So let me get this straight. Are you saying that men in high positions of power are not capable of criminal activity and telling lies to the general public? Are you really that naive?” (Laugh as you say this.)
As you can see this is a literal script. Right up front we see what I have found to be the typical attitude of the conspiracy theorists – anyone who does not buy their fantastical theories is “naive,” – said with dismissive laughter. This response is also a straw man.
Of course people in power are capable of lying and criminal activity. There are even genuine conspiracies. The recent lane-closing scandal in New Jersey was a conspiracy of at least several civil servants who lied and conspired to abuse their power to punish their political enemies (heedless of collateral damage).
When we talk about conspiracy theorists we are talking about grand conspiracies. These are conspiracies that involved large numbers of people, a vast expanse of power and control, unbelievable secrecy, and often sustained for years or decades. Of course there is no sharp demarcation between a small and plausible conspiracy and a grand conspiracy, but the larger the conspiracy would need to be, the more implausible it becomes. The largest grand conspiracies simply collapse under their own weight.
Ah, but the author has heard this response before and has an answer:
“You’re absolutely right. I agree with you 100%. It is impossible to totally cover up a conspiracy so massive. That’s why I know about it! What you must understand is that they don’t have to cover it up totally. Even a bucket that has a few leaks can still do the job of carrying water from here to there! They only need to fool 80% of the public, which isn’t hard to do when you control the major networks and newspapers.”
Of course the conspiracy theorists have to have learned about the conspiracy, but this entirely misses the point. Conspiracy theorists don’t have actual evidence. They don’t have leaked information, documents, photographs, or any hard or direct evidence of their specific conspiracy theory. As you will see from later responses – they simply believe they have perceived a pattern in events.
This cuts to the heart of the logical fallacies at the core of conspiracy thinking. The conspirators in grand conspiracies have as much power, control, and reach as they need to pull off the conspiracy. Any missing evidence was covered up by the conspiracy. Any evidence against the conspiracy or for a more prosaic explanation was planted. Any events that would seem to undermine the conspiracy theory were clearly false flag operations.
Conspiracy theories are therefore immune to evidence. They are closed, self-contained belief systems that resist their own critical analysis. That is why they are a mental trap.
Often conspiracy theorists are generally smart people (even if they lack certain critical thinking skills). Smart people, however, are good at . . .
Are phobias really irrational, or does the brain have a better reason for creating them?
What makes a phobia? It’s perfectly rational to prefer not to perch dangerously on the edge of a perilous cliff, and it’s only common sense to avoid the bite of a snake. But some of us take it a step further: experiencing acute symptoms of anxiety when exposed to certain threats, even when we’re actually safe. We can be on a perfectly safe railed walkway that’s high in the air, or the snake can be behind glass, but we still get the full physiological reaction. Fight or flight kicks in; anxiety, increased metabolism. Adrenalin and dopamine. Peripheral vision turns to tunnel vision and the mind becomes clear and focused on escaping the object of your phobia.
Trauma from past events is the main cause of most phobias, but some researchers also believe heredity may play a role (the eternal nature vs. nurture debate). The nurture component triggers a conditioned response to a stimulus. Here are phifteen phreaky phobias and what we know of them:
1. Arachnophobia: Fear of Spiders
Why is it that even a tiny toddler with no previous spider experience will recoil in terror from a tiny cute little animal that can’t possibly pose any threat? Some have speculated that arachnophobia is an evolutionary adaptation; individuals who lacked the fear were spider-venomed to death more often enough that their genes eventually became expressed less often. Others have pointed out that the actual threat from spiders has never been substantial enough to produce such an effect.
Whatever the cause, arachnophobia is somewhat infamous as the poster child for exposure therapy, the most successful way to treat phobias through desensitization. What arachnophobe would not want to someday be thickly encrusted with Giant Huntsman spiders?
2. Pediophobia: Fear of Dolls
A theory to explain why this phobia exists has to do with the “uncanny valley” — that gap between our comfort with the images of real people, and our comfort with fictional characters sufficiently different from humans. In between, where things like corpses, prosthetic hands, wax figures, and lifelike animated humans are, they’re almost-but-not-quite human and it creeps us out. A picture or drawing of a doll may seem harmless enough, but when a real doll is there in front of you in three dimensions and with physical synthetic eyes and hair and clothes, its evident realism drops it squarely into the uncanny valley. The uncanny valley is probably also largely responsible for:
3. Coulrophobia: Fear of Clowns
In addition to their uncanniness — appearing essentially as malformed humans — clowns are correlated with behavior that is equally uncanny. Whether they’re hitting each other over the head with giant cartoon hammers or (perhaps even creepier) quietly handing you a balloon or a flower with an overly loving grin, they behave almost-but-not-quite like people: too different, and yet too similar, for comfort.
4. Emetophobia: Fear of Vomiting
Some people just don’t do vomit: really, really don’t do vomit. They can’t think about it, watch it, or even imagine doing it themselves. The leading theory is that emetophobia is a reaction to a traumatic incident as a child, where vomiting may have been especially painful, humiliating, or associated with a strong memory such as a severe illness. As is the case with all phobias, a quick drive of the porcelain bus today wouldn’t be all that bad; but the sufferer has been conditioned to be severely anxious at the very idea.
5. Ornithophobia: Fear of Birds
In many cases we can never pinpoint what event in a sufferer’s life may have triggered their fear of birds, but the effect can be quite dramatic. Birds are everywhere outside; they can fly, they can come at us unexpectedly from any angle. This uncertainty and feeling of imminent attack is sufficient to trigger a state of acute stress response, the formal term for the fight or flight response. It triggers all the metabolic and biochemical reactions, making a life with too many outdoor excursions truly too stressful for an ornithophobe to manage.
The line between religions and cults can be a blurry one at times. Although some prefer to distinguish between cults and religions, there are some indisputable similarities. For example, both sometimes encourage donations from their followers and promote the sacrifice of food and other luxuries in the name of ritual observances. However, cults significantly differ in their belief systems, rituals and indoctrination. A religion that uses mind control techniques, deception and exploitation to teach its followers has strayed further away from a religion and is much closer to a cult. Here are 9 ways groups become cults:
1 • Mind control
Cults were built upon the foundation of mind control. Cults use mind control and brainwashing techniques in virtually every aspect of their teachings, recruitment and policies. Cults aim to reduce one’s critical thinking skills and gain control of one’s thoughts, emotion and behavior through the use of mind control techniques. Researchers may argue that mind control is nothing new to religion and most religious groups use some form of brainwashing to get their members to alter the way they perceive the world, but there is certainly a fine line between coercive thinking and suggestive interpretations of the truth.
2 • Charismatic leader
A signature characteristic of cults is their charismatic leader. Although many religious leaders are considered charismatic, cult leaders have a different kind of magnetism and power that wins over followers. A cult leader is considered the supreme authority of the group, and he or she typically becomes the object of worship. This figurehead commands the upmost respect and compliance from its members and they have the only and final ruling on matters. Cult leaders lead the pack in using mind control and brainwashing techniques, so they can take full advantage of the members financially, physically and psychologically.
3 • Deception
When it comes to religion people will do anything to seek the truth. Cults know this and use it to their advantage. Unlike most religions, cults will use deceptive and manipulative ploys to get people to join the cult and stay in it. They are notorious for using deceptive recruitment efforts, such as not indentifying themselves and not being transparent about their organization or message. Cults often use confusing terms and languages to control their followers’ minds and strengthen the group’s belief system.
4 • Exclusivity
One way for religious groups to become cults is to claim exclusivity. Cults are notorious for claiming that they have an exclusive line to God and have a special revelation of the truth. Most groups believe they are an elite and secretive group that is expected to recruit and fundraise with hidden objectives and limited disclosure to protect their sacred mission.
5 • Offer explanations and solutions to everything in life
Most religions will admit that there are many things that can’t be easily explained or easily solved. This is a concept that many cults refuse to believe. Cults have a tendency to give ambiguous explanations for the most complex things in life and suggest unethical solutions to the world’s problems. These deceptive teachings are all part of the cult’s totalitarian worldview and brainwashing.
A man we’ll call Joe recalls plunging into darkness and seeing a bright light. He remembers a field of flowers and a figure in white who spoke to him about his future. The next thing he recalls is awakening to discover that during the time he’d experienced this vision, he’d actually been lying on an operating table with doctors hovering over him, frantically trying to restart his stopped heart.
You’ve probably heard stories similar to this one, which was recounted in a 2006 New Scientist article. What Joe remembers experiencing is called a near-death experience (NDE). Reportedly, about 10 to 20 percent of people who survive heart attacks experience an NDE (source: Callaway). Written accounts of NDEs go back to ancient times. Usually, they involve euphoria, tunnels, bright lights, ethereal beings or some combination of those phenomena. Some people report seeing a high-speed replay of memories — aka, their lives flash before their eyes.
Nobody really knows what NDEs are, or how and why they occur, though there are widely-ranging opinions. Those who believe in the metaphysical think that during an NDE, a seriously ill or injured person’s soul leaves the physical body and journeys to the entrance of the afterlife. There, for whatever reason, he or she is turned away and sent back to resume Earthly life — sometimes with a newfound insight about life’s purpose.
Physicians and neuroscientists who’ve searched for a less mystical explanation for NDEs suspect they’re hallucinations, somehow caused by the process of the dying brain shutting down. Over the years, some have theorized that NDEs result when the brain is deprived of oxygen, or when a mysterious, yet-unverified chemical binds itself to neurons in an effort to protect them from that deprivation. Still others think that the brain’s impending shutdown triggers a flood of euphoria-causing endorphins, or electrical discharges in the hippocampus (the brain area involved in memory), while others think the state is caused by the side effects of anesthesia or medications.
However, so far, science has failed to come up with an airtight explanation for NDEs. In the largest-ever study of the phenomenon, published in the Lancet in 2001, Dutch physicians interviewed 344 mostly elderly hospital patients who survived brushes with death in which their hearts stopped. Only 18 percent of them reported experiencing NDEs, and the researchers found no link to the amount of time they were in cardiac arrest, or the drugs they were given.
Since then, a 2010 study published in the journal Clinical Care offers yet another possible explanation.
Cults… those groups of seemingly nutty people that have been around with us since forever.
Most cults tend to die off, but some do stick around and in some cases evolve into religions.
Now many cults do have a lot of things in common but I’ve noticed five certain things about them.
So here are five things I’ve noticed about cults:
5. They’re self destructive.
With a few notable exceptions most cults will eventually die off and cease to exist.
Most of the time a cult will cease to exist due to it’s leadership’s abusive and controlling behavior, which sometimes results in either a member getting kicked out for some minor infringement, or a member getting fed up with the behavior of the leadership and leaving. These combined with the public’s finding out about a cult’s abusive behavior, plus what ever strange beliefs they may have, might keep some people from wanting to join, and thus the the cult eventually dies out due to it being unable to gain new members.
Of course sometimes a cult dies off not slowly and gradually, but very quickly due to it’s members committing criminal acts that forces law enforcement to imprison most of it’s members (those that come peacefully that is) or they get killed by law enforcement because they refuse to be arrested, or the members commit mass suicide or murder/suicide.
4. They isolate people.
Almost every cult there is encourages (or forces) it’s members to engage in some form of isolation. For some this may be as minor as encouraging it’s members to have as little contact as possible with people that are considered to be possibly “harmful”, to having no contact with people who left the cult, to outright isolating themselves from society in general.
Sometimes this isolation isn’t the result of a cult encouraging it’s members to stop having contact with other people, but instead encourages them to engage in behavior with non-members that is usually considered to be bizarre, imposing, or abusive. Such behavior often times causes non-members to not want to be around any of these members, regardless of whatever relationship they may have with these people.
Regardless of however a cult does it, ultimately a cult will usually end up causing a member to be isolated from those that were closest to them (i.e. friends and family).
3. They’re financially ruinous.
Many cults encourages it’s members to do things that can cause them to go broke, or at least set them back financially.
One of the ways that cults ruin people financially is that they encourage their member to give large sums of money to the cult.
I’m always fascinated by how the mind works. Check out Apollo Robbins, he’s incredible.
Hailed as the greatest pickpocket in the world, Apollo Robbins studies the quirks of human behavior as he steals your watch. In a hilarious demonstration, Robbins samples the buffet of the TEDGlobal 2013 audience, showing how the flaws in our perception make it possible to swipe a wallet and leave it on its owner’s shoulder while they remain clueless.
Unfortunately some individuals take conspiracy theories to a disturbingly excessive extreme.
Ever been accused of being a government plant or paid off by “The Man”? Then you’ve never run into a hardcore conspiracy theorist. Be grateful, because such encounters are often as baffling as they are annoying.
That statement may ruffle the feathers of those who view such a comment as an attempt to make conspiracy theorists look “bonkers” (a favorite accusation of the more paranoid conspiracy theorists…).
However, at some point people need to be able to back up their arguments with facts and not the assertion that a total stranger is being paid to spread misinformation.
There is a big difference between indulging in the belief that things are being purposely hidden by individuals with nefarious purposes and the need to accuse everyone who doesn’t think like you of being on the inside of some master scheme.
It’s important to remember that unethical government and business practices are actually readily acknowledged by the average person as these events are often front page news.
[ . . . ]
So when do conspiracy theories go off the rails?
1.) When they are developed based on unsubstantiated fear and bigotry rather than supporting evidence. At the heart of the more bizarre conspiracies is often the belief that the theorist is in danger.
Really, if what you knew was so dangerous, it’s logical to believe that you’d already be dead instead of living to blab all over Facebook and Reddit from a computer that’s more traceable than you think.
There’s actually no reason to be afraid because…
2.) You’re just not that special. Some people seek to uncover the truth in order to bring a very real wrong to the attention of the world. Others spend all day discussing their opinion on the internet because of a need to convince the world of how much smarter they are than everyone else.
It’s easy to guess which group is useful and proactive and which group is full of ridiculously entitled windbags.
At the end of the day, conspiracy theories are suppose to be centered around a mysterious event. When each discussion is brought around to you and your ego…you’ve lost the plot.
3.) You are not entitled to know everything. Imagine that you knew everything there is to know about the universe and all events from the beginning to the end of time.
A woman in Germany claims she was hypnotized outside of a supermarket, put into a trance, and later woke up at home having been robbed.
A news story explains, “A pair of hypnotists are being hunted by police after a victim claimed she was put in a trance before being robbed. Police in Germany are investigating a spate of crimes involving two Russian women who tell their victims they will read their fortune. In one incident 66 year-old Sarah Alexeyeva told detectives she was spoken to outside an Aldi supermarket in Elmshorn, Schleswig-Holstein. But the next thing she knew she snapped out of a trance and was sat in her armchair at home. All her jewellery and valuables had disappeared, police said.”
Though such claims are unusual, they are not unheard of. According to a 2008 BBC News story, “Police in Italy have issued footage of a man who is suspected of hypnotizing supermarket checkout staff to hand over money from their cash registers. In every case, the last thing staff reportedly remember is the thief leaning over and saying: ‘Look into my eyes’, before finding the till empty.”
There’s a certain creepy Gothic allure to the idea that a mesmerizing stranger can ask you to stare deeply into his eyes, or ask you to follow a pocketwatch swaying seductively to and fro and listen to him count backwards into a hypnotic trance. But it’s pure fiction.
Hypnosis is a widely misunderstood psychological phenomenon, due largely to its depictions in popular culture and film. Many people believe that hypnosis is a way to access memories of traumatic events that have somehow been hidden or forgotten. In the book “Human Memory: An Introduction to Research, Data, and Theory,” Dr. Ian Neath of Purdue University notes, “The majority of studies do not find that hypnosis allows recollection of information that could not otherwise be recalled.”
In fact there is a significant danger that any information or memories that may be recalled under hypnosis may be false, created accidentally by the power of suggestion. False memories elicited using hypnosis played a role in . . .
As many of you know, i LOVE optical illusions. Not just because of their visual impact, but also because of the insights it can give us into the workings of our brain, another favorite topic of mine.
This is one of my favorite YouTube channels because they always post something interesting.
Check it out. :)
Since publishing “The Secret,” in 2006, the Australian author Rhonda Byrne has been writing self-help manifestos based on the idea that people who think positive thoughts are rewarded with happiness, wealth, influence, wisdom, and success. In November, 2013, she published “Hero,” the fourth book in the series. The book showcases the wisdom of twelve heroes—businesspeople, sports stars, writers, and philanthropists. Byrne’s idea isn’t new—it’s been a mainstay among greeting-card companies, motivational speakers, and school teachers for decades—but she’s become one of its most visible prophets. “The way to change a lack of belief is very simple,” Byrne writes. “Begin thinking the opposite thoughts to what you’ve been thinking about yourself: that you can do it, and that you have everything within you to do it.”
There’s some truth to Byrne’s ideas about the relationship between thought and action. New inventions emerge after their inventors struggle through years of planning and mental preparation, for example. When people have a condition called somatization disorder, their psychological or emotional distress can manifest in physical symptoms—joint pain, headaches, even seizures. Byrne is also right to emphasize the stubbornness of thought. Once you think something, it is very difficult to eradicate that idea from your mind. The late, brilliant social psychologist Dan Wegner described this as the great irony of mental control: in order to insure that you aren’t thinking about an unwanted idea, you have to continually turn your mind to that very idea. How do you know that you aren’t thinking of a white bear driving a red Ferrari unless you think about whether you’re thinking it?
The books have many adherents; most of their Amazon reviewers give them five stars. But they also have detractors. One criticism is that the books use a technique popularized by fitness gurus: when you see actors with tanned, chiseled bodies promoting a new piece of fitness equipment, you get the sense that they aren’t in excellent shape because they’ve spent hours using that particular machine. More likely, they jog or lift weights, or have great genes or a lightning-fast metabolism, or have some combination of these characteristics. It’s just as hard to believe that the heroes in Byrne’s books—let alone a feverishly productive polymath like Goethe or the notoriously irritable Beethoven—succeeded because they cultivated good thoughts. Moreover, as the journalist Oliver Burkeman noted in “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking,” “Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.”
Burkeman is onto something. According to a great deal of research, positive fantasies may lessen your chances of succeeding.
I found this to be a great lesson in critical thinking. Check it out :)
How do you investigate hypotheses? Do you seek to confirm your theory – looking for white swans? Or do you try to find black swans? I was startled at how hard it was for people to investigate number sets that didn’t follow their hypotheses, even when their method wasn’t getting them anywhere.
This video was inspired by The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb and filmed by my mum. Thanks mum!
Imagine coming home to your spouse and finding someone who looks and acts exactly like your spouse, but you have the strong feeling that they are an imposter. They don’t “feel” like your spouse. Something is clearly wrong. In this situation most people conclude that their spouse is, in fact, an imposter. In some cases this has even led to the murder of the “imposter” spouse.
This is a neurological syndrome known as Capgras delusion – a sense of hypofamiliarity, that someone well known to you is unfamiliar. There is also the opposite of this – hyperfamiliarity, the sense that a stranger is familiar to you, known as Fregoli delusion. Sufferers often feel that they are being stalked by someone known to them but in disguise.
Psychologists and neuroscientists are trying to establish the wiring or “neuroanatomical correlates” that underlie such phenomena. What are the circuits in our brains that result in these thought processes? A recent article by psychologist Philip Garrans explores these issues in detail, but with appropriate caution. We are dealing with complex concepts and some fuzzy definitions. But in there are some clear mental phenomena that reveal, at least to an extent, how our minds work.
The “reality testing” model discussed by Garran reflects the overall hierarchical organization of the brain. There are circuits that subconsciously create beliefs, impressions, or hypotheses. We also have “reality testing” circuits, specifically the right dorsolateral prefrontal circuitry, that examine these beliefs to see if they are internally consistent and also consistent with our existing model of reality. Delusions, such as Capgras and Fregoli, result from a “metacognitive failure” of these reality testing circuits.
Garran and others argue that dreams are a normal state we all experience in which our reality-testing circuitry is either off or hypofunctioning. This is why our dreaming selves accept dream events that are clearly internally inconsistent or at odds with our model of reality. When we wake up, if we remember our dream, we are often struck by how “bizarre” our dream was and marvel at how our dreaming self accepted the clearly unreal dream.
The question Garran explores is whether or not pathological delusional states are neuroloanatomically similar to the dreaming state. Both, he argues, may result from a failure of reality testing. Part of the problem of exploring this hypothesis is that “reality testing” is a broadly defined concept. What, exactly, is the process? It seems to be a higher level inference about what is likely to be real based upon logic, internal consistency, and existing knowledge.
Here is my own synthesis of what we currently know about how our brains work with respect to belief and reality testing:
There are multiple identified processes, acting mostly subconsciously, that “present” tentative beliefs or conclusions to our conscious awareness. These processes include our sensory perceptions, which are highly constructed and are not objectively reliable. Our brains not only construct our perceptions but give them meaning. We don’t just see shapes, we see objects that have a reality and a purpose. We also see people, who have emotional content, including familiarity. Locations also are imbued with a sense of familiarity or unfamiliarity.
Our memories are also highly constructed and malleable. We update our memories with new information every time we recall them. They become part of our dynamic internal model of reality.
There are also a host of biases and needs pushing our model of reality and our construction of events in a direction that is emotionally comforting and satisfying to us.
Further, we have a set of heuristics or inherent logic by which we, by default, attempt to make sense of the world. This includes an inherent (flawed) sense of probability. There are also inherent tendencies, such as the tendency to see patterns, to detect agency in others and in our environment, and to weave compelling narratives.
By Benjamin Radford via LiveScience
Amazing coincidences happen all the time — but are they simply the product of random chance, or do they convey some hidden meaning? The answer may depend on whether you believe in synchronicity.
The term synchronicity was coined by Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961). Jung had a strong belief in a wide variety of paranormal phenomenon, including psychic powers, astrology, alchemy, predictive dreams, UFOs and telekinesis (moving objects with the mind). He was also obsessed with numerology — the belief that certain numbers have special cosmic significance, and can predict important life events.
Jung’s concept of synchronicity is complicated and poorly defined, but can be boiled down to describing “meaningful coincidences.” The concept of synchronicity came to Jung during a period of mental illness in the early 1900s. Jung became convinced that everything in the universe is intimately connected, and that suggested to him that there must exist a collective unconscious of humankind. This implied to him that events happening all over the world at the same time must be connected in some unknown way.
In his book “137: Jung, Pauli, and the Pursuit of a Scientific Obsession,” Arthur I. Miller gives an example of synchronicity; one of his patients “told Jung that when her mother and grandmother died, on each occasion a flock of birds gathered outside the window of the room.” The woman’s husband, who had symptoms of heart problems, went out to see a doctor and “on his way back the man collapsed in the street. Shortly after he had set off to see the specialist a large flock of birds had alighted on the house. His wife immediately recognized this as a sign of her husband’s impending death.”
There is, of course, a more prosaic explanation for curious coincidence: birds are very common, and simply by random chance a flock will appear near people who are soon to die — just as they appear daily around millions of people who are not soon to die.
The appearance of synchronicity is the result of a well-known psychological phenomenon called confirmation bias (sometimes described as remembering the hits and forgetting the misses); we much more easily notice and remember things that confirm our beliefs than those that do not. The human brain is very good at making connections and seeing designs in ambiguous stimuli and random patterns.
If Jung’s patient came to believe that a flock of birds meant that death was imminent, she would start noticing flocks of birds, and remember the times when they coincided with a loved one’s death. But she would not likely notice or remember the countless times when flocks of birds appeared over people who lived for years or decades longer. Put another way, a person dying when a flock of birds is present is an event; a person not dying when a flock of birds is present is a non-event, and therefore not something anyone pays attention to. This is the result of normal human perceptual and memory biases, not some mysterious cosmic synchronicity.
It’s easy to see why synchronicity has mass appeal; it provides meaning and order in an otherwise random universe. One famous (and more modern) example of synchronicity is . . .
Via Dr. Phil.com
For the past four years, Matt, 51, claims that he has been stalked, wiretapped and hacked by thousands of people affiliated with a group that he calls "The Organization." Matt says that he believes his stalkers are "cyber geeks" who have nothing better to do with their time and money than toy with people's lives. Hear the evidence Matt says he has collected â€” and what a private investigator, hired by Dr. Phil, uncovers. Plus, Matt admits to past drug use involving methamphetamines but says that he's been clean for six months. He agrees to both a drug test and a mental evaluation to prove that his claims are valid – what will the results show?
When users take DMT they experience vivid hallucinations. Some users even believe they have communicated with nonhuman creatures while on DMT — but why?
[ . . . ]
Our brains are designed to make sense of the onslaught of sensory stimulation and information that they get from the world by filtering and organizing. We have a tendency to focus on certain details and ignore others, to avoid being overwhelmed. And we habitually organize information into patterns, based on things we’ve seen or learned about before. That leads us to process what we hear, read or see in a way that reinforces what we think we already know. That phenomenon is called cognitive bias (source: Science Daily).
To make matters worse, some theorize that we also engage in selective exposure — that is, we pick sources of information that tell us what we want to hear. Ohio State researchers, for example, found that when college students spent a few minutes reading news articles online, they selected ones that supported their already-held views 58 percent of the time (source: Hsu).
So, we’re vulnerable to information that fits what we want to believe — even if it’s of dubious authenticity. That’s probably why the infamous photograph of the Loch Ness monster, taken in 1934 (source: Nickell), was so convincing for many people. The silhouette resembled a long-necked dinosaur, which was something they had seen pictures of in natural history textbooks. And the idea that ancient creatures might have survived extinction already had surfaced in fiction such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel “The Lost World,” so it wasn’t too much of a leap conceptually. It wasn’t until 1994 that researchers got an elderly man who had been part of the hoax to reveal that the monster in the photo actually was a foot-high model, fashioned from a toy submarine (source: Associated Press).
If you’ve ever sold used cars or peddled vacuum sweepers door-to-door, you probably know this from experience: Researchers have found that an attractive physical appearance and positive nonverbal cues, like eye contact, smiling and a pleasant tone of voice, may have as much or more of an influence upon us than the actual words that the person is saying. In fact, someone who is skilled at nonverbal messaging can actually foster what communication experts call a halo effect. That is, if we think that a person looks good, we assume that he or she is intelligent or capable as well. That’s a big help in fostering credibility (source: Eadie). But just as a salesperson can learn to project a convincing demeanor, a swindler or a dishonest politician can practice the same tricks.
However, other nonverbal cues provide useful information for evaluating whether someone is telling the truth or a lie. Researchers who’ve studied the questioning of criminal suspects, for example, note that even highly motivated, skillful liars have a tendency to “leak” nonverbal clues to their deception in the course of a long interview, because of the difficulty of managing facial expressions, physical carriage, and tone of voice over time. The trick is to watch for those tiny flaws in the subject’s demeanor to emerge.
When making an untrue statement, for example, a person may flash a “microexpression”– a frown, perhaps, or a grimace — that reflects his or her true emotions, but clashes with what the person is saying. Since some of this microexpressions may happen as quickly as the blink of an eye, the easiest way to detect them is by replaying a video. But it is possible to do it in a real-time conversation as well. U.S. Coast Guard investigators trained in spotting such leakage, for example, have been able to spot such clues about 80 percent of the time (source: Matsumoto, et al.).
Throughout history, purveyors of falsehoods seldom have bothered with piddling minor fibs. Instead, they generally have opted for what propaganda experts call the “Big Lie” — that is, a blatant, outrageous falsehood about some important issue, and one that’s usually designed to inflame listeners’ emotions and provoke them to whatever action the liar has in mind. The Big Lie is most often associated with Adolf Hitler, who advised in his book “Mein Kampf” that the “primitive simplicity” of ordinary people makes them vulnerable to massive deceptions. “It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and would not believe that others would have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously,” the Nazi dictator wrote.
Ironically, even as he explained the method of the Big Lie, he used it to promote an especially brazen untruth — that Jews and Communists somehow had deceived the German people into thinking that their nation’s loss in World War I was caused by reckless, incompetent military leaders. The Nazi dictator was onto something, though perhaps even his own twisted mind didn’t grasp it: Some of the most effective Big Lies are accusations of someone else being a liar (source: Hitler).
Hitler, of course, didn’t invent the Big Lie, and a liar doesn’t necessarily have to be a bloodthirsty dictator to pull it off. But the best way to protect yourself against the Big Lie is to be an educated, well-informed person who’s got a broad base of knowledge and context. Sadly, we live in a culture where fewer and fewer people seem to have that background. In a 2011, Newsweek gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. citizenship test; more than a third scored a failing grade — 60 percent or lower — to questions such as “How many justices are on the Supreme Court?” and “Who did the U.S. fight in World War II?” That’s kind of scary (source: Quigley).
Introduction by Mason i. Bilderberg (MIB)
How many times have you heard a paranormal investigator claim to see faces and images of the deceased in everything from a cinnabon swirl to a waft of smoke rising from a candle? Are they seeing the deceased? No. What they’re experiencing is a nearly uncontrollable urge by our brains to seek out and identify patterns. Especially human faces. This phenomenon has a name . . . Pareidolia:
«A psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus (often an image or sound) being perceived as significant. Common examples include seeing images of animals or faces in clouds, the man in the moon or the Moon rabbit, and hearing hidden messages on records when played in reverse.» – Wikipedia
«. . . a type of illusion or misperception involving a vague or obscure stimulus being perceived as something clear and distinct.
«Under ordinary circumstances, pareidolia provides a psychological explanation for many delusions based upon sense perception.» – The Skeptic’s Dictionary
How powerless are we to our own brains? Look at the image to the right and try to NOT see a very happy thermostat. Bet you can’t!!!
See? Our brains are hardwired to seek out and find faces.
Just HOW hardwired are we to see faces where none exist? Look at the following montage of photos and try to NOT see faces. Prepare to lose control of your mind to the power of pareidolia!!!! Bwahaha!!!!!!
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
By animator and artist Aiden Glenn of Pizza and Pixels
Introduction by Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
You might remember the crop circle that suddenly appeared 11 miles southeast of Salinas, California on or about December 28, 2013. As usual, every UFOlogist and woomaster went nuts speculating on the deeper meaning of this symbol – especially as it might pertain to the new year and some kind of cataclysmic event or some kind of awakening. (Woomeisters always predict doom and gloom or some kind of awakening. It’s in their handbook.)
According to one “expert”, the Salinas Crop Circle:
«… contains three coded messages according to renowned crop circle researcher, Dr Horace Drew. According to Dr Drew, a retired molecular biologist who worked at Caltech and Australia’s CSIRO, one of the coded messages was to be vigilant about an upcoming astronomical event. The next message referred to a date in the near future when an astronomical event is to occur by July 8, 2014. The third and most startling message was that comet ISON was a space transportation system. Taken in their entirety, the three messages appear to be encouraging people to watch the skies for an upcoming astronomical event featuring remnants of ISON that will in fact be an extraterrestrial event of some kind.» (source)
You have to love it when an appeal to authority (a retired molecular biologist who worked at Caltech and Australia’s CSIRO) goes horribly wrong.
Another crop researcher Paul Jacobs, who began investigating the Salinas crop circle:
«No one in the area has made claim to it and the locals had no knowledge of it or its construction. I estimate it would have taken three men working in daylight conditions doing 9-hour shifts for nearly 9 days to complete this pattern. My gut feeling is we have an important event on our hands here.» (source)
Even KSBW Action News 8 wasted airtime deciphering this “mystery”:
So, is the truth out there? If so, where is it?
Well Fox Mulder, the truth is not out there. The truth is right here, on earth … the crop circle was created by the aliens at Nvidia.
«In case you’re not a gamer and don’t know what Nvidia is, the company is headquartered in Santa Clara and pioneers visual computing — the art and science of computer graphics. The crop circle was drawn in the shape of Nvidia’s 192-core super chip, called Tegra K1, and the artists said it was challenging to create.
«Nvidia CEO Jen Hsun Huang made his confession Sunday night in Las Vegas at International CES, the technology industry’s annual gadget show. While news of the crop circles spread as far as Mongolia in central Asia, Huang credited KSBW reporter Michelle Imperato with “cracking the code.”» (source)
Nvidia CEO Jen Hsun Huang discussing the Salinas Crop Circle:
There you have it. Enjoy the following article :)
I can’t resist this excellent example of the human capacity for ad-hoc reasoning and pattern recognition. The Salinas Crop Circle was discovered in late December, and instantly became famous in the crop circle world. It is an example of a complex design, that begs to be interpreted.
Crop circle believers – those who think the designs that are often found drawn in various crops around the world (curiously following cultural lines) are the product of aliens trying to communicate in their abstruse way with humans, like to find meaning in the crop circles. This becomes an exercise in pattern recognition, as they are often trying to find meaning where none exists.
Here is one example. The author, assuming the crop circle is an alien communication, comes up with an elaborate interpretation. He believes it refers to comet ISON, which recently burned up on its journey around the sun. This itself is a good example of “retrodicting.” I would be more impressed if a crop circle predicted something yet to be discovered.
The author interprets that middle square section with dots as braille and comes up with the number 192. It turns out, this is a correct interpretation (more below). He writes:
Its first inner code shows a brief message in Braille saying “192-192-2-192-1-192-192”. This may be a symbolic reference to the British search engine “192.com” (see http://www.192.com). Its implication might be that “the blind will see, and those who search will find”
He tells us 192 is a mystical number that comes up frequently in crop circles. He also interprets some damage to the crops as a comet, the circles around the outer edge as either planets or at marketing the numbers on a clock, and:
Its third intermediate code involves a series of alphabetic characters in Morse code. They seem to read: “E-T B I-S-O-N S-T-S One interpretation of this cryptic message might be: “E T B(e)” or “extra-terrestrials exist”. Then “I-S-O-N (comet)” is an “S-T-S (space transportation system)” like for the NASA space shuttles.
What is interesting is how compelling it seems to us when we can find patterns, especially complex ones. We tend to react as if the fact that we can find a pattern means that it is real. We inherently lack an intuitive understanding of the power of data mining. In other words – we fail to appreciate the possible number of patterns that we can see when we use open-ended criteria. There are countless possible patterns, and the fact that we hit upon one or more means nothing – except that we are good at finding patterns and connections.
This is one of those uncommon cases where we have a definitive answer in the end, which is what makes it such a powerful example. The crop circle was actually commissioned by NVIDIA as a promotional stunt for their new mobile graphics chip. Here is a video of the making of the crop circle:
True believers might try to deny this evidence by saying it occurred after the fact as a distraction, but that is simply not possible. There would not have been time to fake this video, and to come up with an alternate interpretation of the design that so clearly matches NVIDIA’s new chip.
For example, the 192 in braille is accurate, but the 192 refers to the number of processors in the chip. There is a reason why 192 might crop up frequently in the context of computers – because it is 64 x 3, and 64 is a multiple of 8. Because of how computers are built, you will notice that from kilobytes to terabytes, hard drives, flash drives, RAM, etc. all come in such multiples – 64, 128, 256, 512, etc.
It’s interesting that crop circle believers have come to believe that the gray aliens like to communicate in braille. Apparently, so do human crop circle artists.
Watch the video for the full explanation of the meaning in the crop circle. And then see how clever people can be in coming up with alternate interpretations. I guess this is a post-modern approach to crop circles as a narrative form.
On that point – also pay attention to the words of the crop circle artists interviewed in the NVIDIA video. They say, essentially, that part of their art form is creating the crop circles in the context of mystery. It is a collaboration with the crop circle believers, who provide the “other worldly” context and interpretation of their art.
Another artist also says that complex mathematical designs, the ones that look as if they have really complex relationships, are actually the easiest to lay out and create.
This always reminds me of my personal encounter with a crop circle believer who challenged me by saying, “how can they create perfect circles? That’s impossible.” I then introduced her to the concept of a compass, the crop circle equivalent of which is a stake and a rope.
Simple techniques can create mathematical perfection and complexity. That is sort-of the nature of math and geometry, which is all about relationships. These relationships create countless patterns, and believers can plumb the depths of those patterns to their endless satisfaction.
Today the skeptical eye focuses on a newly described condition from the medical fringe: Morgellons disease. This is a skin condition in which a painful rash or other open sores appear on various parts of the body, but with a unique characteristic: Found embedded within these sores are colored fibers, apparently made of plastic or other synthetics.
Morgellons has created something of a battle line drawn in the sand between sufferers and medical science. Sufferers believe these fibers are being extruded from the body itself, while doctors and psychiatrists generally agree that the fibers come from the environment and are merely being caught in the sores as always happens with scabs.
Skin rashes and sores are one of the physical symptoms of acute stress, and to most doctors who are aware of it, Morgellons appears to be nothing more than this. It’s often compared to delusional parasitosis, where the patient believes that the normal itching of a stress-induced rash is caused by unseen parasites living in or on the skin. No parasites are ever found, but some patients tend to react with hostility toward any diagnosis that does not support their preconceived notion. But doctors can only go by the best state of our current knowledge, and are the first to admit that we don’t know everything about the human body or about diseases. So to take a truly skeptical perspective, we start by setting aside what we think we know and looking at the evidence, beginning with the history.
Morgellons had a particularly inauspicious beginning. In 2001, a former hospital lab technician turned stay-at-home mom, Mary Leitao, noticed a raw patch under the lip of her two-year-old son Drew. She took him to eight (!) different doctors, dissatisfied with each diagnosis that there was nothing unusual wrong with Drew.
She picked fibers from the surface of the scab and examined them under Drew’s toy microscope. Her own conclusion was that the fibers were being extruded from Drew’s skin, rather than coming from a blanket or stuffed animal or anything else that toddlers bury their faces in. Drawing on the word morgellons from an old French reference to black hairs, she created the name Morgellons Disease.
Leitao demanded that the doctors prescribe antibiotics, which they would not do, given the lack of any apparent illness. She became obsessed with finding a doctor who would validate this new disease she’d invented. One doctor at Johns Hopkins wrote to another “I found no evidence of [anything suspicious] in Andrew… Ms. Leitao would benefit from a psychiatric evaluation and support, whether Andrew has Morgellons Disease or not. I hope she will cease to use her son in further exploring this problem.”
Another doctor at Johns Hopkins agreed, and even took it a step further, stating that Leitao appeared to be a case of Münchausen’s by proxy. Münchausen’s Syndrome is where you pretend to be sick because you love getting attention from doctors and hospitals. Münchausen’s by proxy is a psychiatric syndrome where you take a child or other family member, and promote them as being sick, to get the same attention. It need not be a conscious deception, Mary Leitao almost certainly does genuinely believe her son is ill; but the psychiatric pathology is the same. She has since gone on to found the Morgellons Research Foundation, which currently lists 14,700 registrants.
An Internet search today reveals that Morgellons has become conflated with chemtrail conspiracy mongering. Some believe that contrails left by airplanes are actually the government spraying toxins to sicken the population with Morgellons. An article on the conspiracy theory web site Rense.com compares two pictures, one claimed to show a fiber from a Morgellons sufferer, and another claiming to show a fiber from chemtrail spraying. It says:
Common characteristics of both types of fibers appear to be similar size and chaotic, uncontrolled growth. If these fibers are the result of highly advanced nanotechnology then we have found the disease, and possible who is behind it. But what would be the purpose of forcing this ailment on the population? Torture? To create a new pandemic in order to sell a new drug for a “treatment?”
Many pro-Morgellons sources claim that the fibers have defied all explanation: They are not human hair, they are not synthetic fiber, and they are not natural plant-based fibers. But I found two significant problems with these assertions. First, they seem to be nothing more than assertions, often accompanied by a story that someone looked at them under a microscope and was somehow able to rule out all known fiber compositions. Second, there is little agreement on the characteristics of the fibers, and thus no way such an assertion can be broadly applied. Some sufferers describe hard, solid plastic shards, often in bright colors. Some describe them as thick hairs. The most common photograph on the Internet shows a tangle of fine filaments. Others find curly threads consistent with synthetic fibers from brightly colored blankets, carpet, or sweaters.
So now let’s look at the common medical explanation for Morgellons . . .
A look at some of the flawed thinking that prompts people who believe in certain non-scientific concepts to advise others who don’t to be more open-minded.
During the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union battled on many fronts to demonstrate their superior technical and scientific achievements. Some of these battles are well known and well documented, such as the race to put a human in space and then on the Moon.
Others are much less well known. One of these battlefronts was in unconventional research—parapsychology (or psychotronics as the Soviets called it), mind control and remote influence and the such like. Some of the US work on these topics is now public and has famously become the basis for various books, TV documentaries and for the Hollywood film “The Men Who Stare at Goats”.
But much less is known about the Soviet equivalents. Today that changes thanks to the work of Serge Kernbach at the Research Center of Advanced Robotics and Environmental Science in Stuttgart, Germany. Kernbach provides an overview of Soviet efforts in unconventional research between 1917 and 2003 based on publications in Russian technical journals and recently declassified documents.
He shows how Soviet research evolved more or less independently of work in the western world but focused on many of the same unconventional themes as secret US programs. And he shows how the Soviets and the Americans used what little they knew of each other’s work to create a self-sustaining cycle of funding. This psychotronic arms race cost as much as $1 billion and only ended in the early 21st century when the funding bubble burst.
Kernbach begins by pointing out that research in the USSR could only be done with government support, unlike research in the west which could be privately funded. So the Soviets had a considerable bureaucracy to manage unconventional research and to fund it, albeit with a certain cyclical character as it fell in and out of favour.
Over the years, the Soviets focused on a number of areas, many of which mirrored US efforts. For example, the US Project MKULTRA, was a 20-year CIA program that studied ways of manipulating people’s minds and altering their brain function.
The Soviets had a similar program. This included experiments in parapsychology, which the Soviets called psychotronics. The work built on a long-standing idea in Soviet science that the human brain could receive and transmit a certain kind of high frequency electromagnetic radiation and that this could influence other objects too.
Various researchers reported that this “human energy” could change the magnetisation of hydrogen nuclei and stimulate the immune systems of wheat, vine and even humans. They even developed a device called a “cerpan” that could generate and store this energy.
Are you the kind of person who likes to hear to a good conspiracy theory?
Some people simply do not like the discomfort that a conspiracy theory creates. But for others, conspiracy theories are intriguing. They like to explore all of the possibilities that a conspiracy theory presents, in the same way that they like to explore puzzles or mystery novels. Sometimes a conspiracy theory is ridiculous and learning about it is a form of entertainment. Or you may find that the theory is credible and it makes you think. It’s interesting to consider the theory, weigh the evidence and come up with a conclusion.
In the 21st century, one event reigns supreme in the catalog of conspiracy theories: the September 11, 2001 attack on the United States. This event is seared into the nation’s consciousness and significantly affected the entire planet. It seems inevitable that people would cry “conspiracy” about any event with this much impact. However, the conspiracy theories around 9/11 have been strong and consistent.
The whole controversy surrounding 9/11 boils down to one simple question:
Did 19 terrorists cause all of the destruction witnessed on 9/11/2001, or did a group of people in the U.S. government conspire to create that destruction for political gain?
The U.S. government has offered the terrorist explanation, and that is the story that many people believe. A large number of people, however, refuse to believe this “official story.” They believe conspiracy theorists when they say that the U.S. government actually masterminded and executed the attack.
We could spend a great deal of time arguing one side or the other. Instead, we’ll focus on the process. Isn’t it fascinating that there can be two credible explanations for such a complex event, and that both explanations can be so diametrically opposed to one another?
How does a conspiracy theory like this get started? What is required to fuel it into a full-fledged public debate? Can the theory ever be proven? What does the possibility of the theory say about our society? In this article we will explore these questions and many others as we look at the events of September 11.
Conspiracy Theory Basics
The dictionary defines a conspiracy theory in this way: A theory seeking to explain a disputed case or matter as a plot by a secret group or alliance rather than an individual or isolated act. A conspiracy theorist, therefore, is a person who formulates such a theory.
There is a certain negative undertone to the term “conspiracy theory” in today’s society. Detractors will point out that many conspiracy theories contain certain features that undermine their credibility. In this article, however, we will use the term “conspiracy theory” in its neutral sense. We are using it to mean an alternative explanation for an event, as it is defined in the dictionary.
In modern times there have been a number of “conspiracy theories.” One example is the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After the assassination, the government offered its explanation of the events. A large number of people (at one point, more than half of the adult population in the United States) simply do not believe the government’s explanation. This particular conspiracy theory rose to such a high level in the public consciousness that an entire Hollywood movie was made about it: “JFK”, directed by Oliver Stone and released in 1991.
The Kennedy assassination really started the modern “conspiracy theory” movement. This is an event where the “official” government explanation of the crime was openly ridiculed by a large number of “normal citizens.” Many people believe that the Kennedy assassination was carried out as part of a larger government-centered conspiracy, rather than as a random event arranged by a single gunman.
In the same way, a very large number of people do not believe that “terrorists” carried out the events seen on 9/11. Instead, they believe that the government caused those events.
Next, we’ll look at how conspiracy theories get started.
Conspiracy theories (CTs) can take many forms and vary widely in popularity, the intensity with which they are believed and their effects on individual and collective behavior. An integrated account of CTs thus needs to explain how they come to appeal to potential believers, how they spread from one person to the next via communication, and how they motivate collective action. We summarize these aspects under the labels of stick, spread, and action. We propose the quasi-religious hypothesis for CTs: drawing on cognitive science of religion, social representations theory, and frame theory. We use cognitive science of religion to describe the main features of the content of CTs that explain how they come to stick: CTs are quasi-religious representations in that their contents, forms and functions parallel those found in beliefs of institutionalized religions. However, CTs are quasi-religious in that CTs and the communities that support them, lack many of the institutional features of organized religions. We use social representations theory to explain how CTs spread as devices for making sense of sudden events that threaten existing worldviews. CTs allow laypersons to interpret such events by relating them to common sense, thereby defusing some of the anxiety that those events generate. We use frame theory to explain how some, but not all CTs mobilize collective counter-conspiratorial action by identifying a target and by proposing credible and concrete rationales for action. We specify our integrated account in 13 propositions.
[...] our present purpose is not to debunk yet another CT, but to theoretically elucidate their dynamics and inner logic. Like Freud (1914) considered slips of the tongue as openings to the unconscious mind, Norman (1981) presented action slips as markers of the organization of memory, and Reason (1990) uses errors to gain insights into skilled performance, we consider CTs as occasions to elucidate actual representations of reality as part of human social functioning. Understanding CTs in turn helps us understand the potentially high human costs of over-generalizing agency. Though we need to guard ourselves against creating a conspiracy theory of CTs, our working hypothesis is that CTs have a degree of functional autonomy in modern societies which needs to be understood.
Conspiracy theories have many facets. On the one hand, they constitute cognitive resources that fulfill a need to explain unusual, disturbing events such as disease outbreak, disruptive technology, major scandal, or sudden celebrity death (McCauley and Jacques, 1979; Wagner-Egger et al., 2011). On the other hand, they are narratives that circulate in culture – in mass media, as rumors, in stories (Byford, 2011). These narratives reduce the complexity presented by such events, contain the uncertainty they generate, and translate unspecific anxiety into focused fears (Barrett and Lawson, 2001). CT narratives are also inscribed in the context of antagonistic relations between groups, drawing on recurrent negative views of outgroups to explain events and, sometimes, motivate collective action.
H/T: Thomas J. Proffit
This 56 page document is published by The British Psychological Society and i’ve just begun reading it, so i can’t yet say whether i love it or hate it. But so far i’m liking what i see. It appears to be written in sections – some of which i’ll be skipping – but there looks to be enough great stuff in here to make it worth downloading.
I’m posting an excerpt below for you to read to help you decide whether this is something you might want to peruse.
Have fun. Feel free to provide feedback in the comments section. :)
The PDF can be downloaded here and at the links below.
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
PRINCESS DIANA was murdered by the British Secret Service because she was pregnant with Dodi Fayed’s baby. The government is adding fluoride to our drinking water in an attempt to weaken the population. Barak Obama is a Kenyan-born Muslim and thus ineligible for the Office of the President of the United States.
All of these statements have appeared at some point or other in popular media, debated by politicians, challenged and denied by government departments, and propagated heavily over the internet. A quarter of the UK population believe Diana was assassinated (YouGov, 2012); similarly 25 per cent of Americans think Obama was not born in the US (CBS News/New York Times, 2011). But these statements are not true.
They are examples of a cultural shift in the popularity of the ‘conspiracy theory’; alternative narratives of a world overshadowed by malevolent groups hell-bent on the destruction of civil liberties, freedom and democracy. They suggest that governments, secret religious groups, scientists or private industry (often many of these combined) are responsible for either causing or covering up significant major world events for their own criminal ends.
What is a ‘conspiracy theory’?
Broadly, psychologists feel that conspiracy theories are worth studying because they demonstrate a particular sub-culture of often heavily political activism that is at odds with the mainstream view. Conspiracy theories are unsubstantiated, less plausible alternatives to the mainstream explanation of an event; they assume everything is intended, with malignity. Crucially, they are also epistemically selfinsulating in their construction and arguments.
What insight does psychology offer?
Belief systems, cognitive biases and individual differences
But what in particular is it about conspiracy believers that are interesting from a psychological perspective? We find these theories and those who believe them incredibly resilient to counter-argument, driven by an often fanatical belief in their version of the truth, coupled with a heavy political overtone in that their opinions need to be heard. We see an interesting combination of cognitive biases, personality traits and other psychological mechanisms at play in the formation, propagation and belief in conspiracies.
Read more – Download the PDF File
Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you…
There is a curious relationship between psychology and the study of conspiracy theories. Historians, philosophers, sociologists and political scientists often present conspiracy theories as being of an essentially psychological nature.
Many such writers describe belief in conspiracies as manifestations of ‘paranoia’, ‘anxiety’, ‘fantasy’, ‘hysteria’ and ‘projection’, or as fulfilling a profound psychological need for certainty in the precarious (post-)modern age. In everyday discourse too, ‘conspiracy theorists’ are often labelled ‘lunatics’, ‘kooks’ or ‘paranoiacs’, implying that they suffer from some intrinsic psychological deficiency or dysfunction.
Yet, surprisingly, little psychological research has been conducted on this topic. In fact, it is only since the 1990s that social psychologists have turned their attention to the conspiracy theory phenomenon and scrutinised its psychological roots in a systematic way.
Investigating the conspiracy theorist
Much psychology research has focused on identifying factors which predispose certain individuals to endorse conspiracy theories. Given that not everyone believes in conspiracy theories, psychological studies have sought to uncover what distinguishes believers from non-believers, and in so doing create a “psychological profile” of conspiracist individuals.
Researchers have explored the relevance of more general demographic factors like gender, socio-economic status, educational level or ethnic background and so on, but also things like disenchantment with political authority, sense of powerlessness, political cynicism, authoritarianism or alienation from society.
They have also looked at personality factors and aspects of cognitive functioning (resistance to disconfirming evidence, tendency to circular thinking, attributional styles, etc.) to see whether conspiracism is underpinned by some intrinsic perceptual or reasoning deficit which leads people to misunderstand or misinterpret causal relations in the world.
Overall, this quest for the psychological profile of conspiracy theorists has yielded modest results. Conspiracy theorists have been shown to be quite similar to sceptics in terms of cognitive functioning or personality. In fact, the only consistent finding is that believers tend to be disenchanted with authority and cynical about the mainstream of politics.
But this is hardly surprising: these are the central motifs of any conspiracy theory!
One possible reason why the psychology of conspiracy theories produced so few meaningful results is that researchers have been approaching this phenomenon in the wrong way. They have tended to see conspiracy theories first and foremost as individual beliefs, thereby reducing them to events that are going on inside a person’s mind (information processing biases, personality characteristics, etc.).
But conspiracy theories are not just a set of individual attitudes.
Did you hear about…?
Anyone who has had the opportunity to engage with conspiracy theories will realise that they are, in fact, a dynamic set of stories and shared assumptions about the world which persist and evolve over time. As such, they are continuously exchanged, debated, evaluated and modified as people try to make sense of the world and events around them.
By Michael Shermer via latimes.com
With the passing of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy last week, and the accompanying fusillade of documentaries purporting to prove there was a conspiracy behind it, we might expect (and hope) that cabalistic conjecturing will wane until the next big anniversary.
Don’t count on it. A poll this month found that 61% of Americans who responded still believe that JFK was the victim of a conspiracy, despite the fact that the preponderance of evidence points to Lee Harvey Oswald as the lone assassin.
Why do so many people refuse to accept this simple and obvious conclusion? The answer: psychology.
There are three psychological effects at work here, starting with “cognitive dissonance,” or the discomfort felt when holding two ideas that are not in harmony. We attempt to reduce the dissonance by altering one of the ideas to be in accord with the other. In this case, the two discordant ideas are 1) JFK as one of the most powerful people on Earth who was 2) killed by Lee Harvey Oswald, a lone loser, a nobody. Camelot brought down by a curmudgeon.
That doesn’t feel right. To balance the scale, conspiracy elements are stacked onto the Oswald side: the CIA, the FBI, the KGB, the Mafia, Fidel Castro, Lyndon Johnson and, in Oliver Stone’s telling in his film “JFK,” the military-industrial complex.
Cognitive dissonance was at work shortly after Princess Diana‘s death, which was the result of drunk driving, speeding and no seat belt. But princesses are not supposed to die the way thousands of regular people die each year, so the British royal family, the British intelligence services and others had to be fingered as co-conspirators.
By contrast, there is no cognitive dissonance for the Holocaust — one of the worst crimes in history committed by one of the most criminal regimes in history.
A second psychological effect is the “monological belief system,” or “a unitary, closed-off worldview in which beliefs come together in a mutually supportive network,” in the words of University of Kent researchers Michael J. Wood, Karen M. Douglas and Robbie M. Sutton in a 2012 paper titled “Dead and Alive: Beliefs in Contradictory Conspiracy Theories.” A conspiracy theory, they wrote, is “a proposed plot by powerful people or organizations working together in secret to accomplish some (usually sinister) goal.” Once you believe that “one massive, sinister conspiracy could be successfully executed in near-perfect secrecy [it] suggests that many such plots are possible.”
With this cabalistic paradigm in place, conspiracies can become “the default explanation for any given event.” For example . . .
To believe that the US government planned or deliberately allowed the 9/11 attacks, you’d have to posit that President Bush intentionally sacrificed 3,000 Americans. To believe that explosives, not planes, brought down the buildings, you’d have to imagine an operation large enough to plant the devices without anyone getting caught.
To insist that the truth remains hidden, you’d have to assume that everyone who has reviewed the attacks and the events leading up to them – the CIA, the Justice Department, the Federal Aviation Administration, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, scientific organisations, peer-reviewed journals, news organisations, the airlines, and local law enforcement agencies in three states – was incompetent, deceived or part of the cover-up.
And yet, as Slate’s Jeremy Stahl points out, millions of Americans hold these beliefs. In a Zogby poll taken six years ago, only 64 per cent of US adults agreed that the attacks “caught US intelligence and military forces off guard”. More than 30 per cent chose a different conclusion: that “certain elements in the US government knew the attacks were coming but consciously let them proceed for various political, military, and economic motives”, or that these government elements “actively planned or assisted some aspects of the attacks”.
How can this be? How can so many people, in the name of scepticism, promote so many absurdities?
The answer is that people who suspect conspiracies aren’t really sceptics. Like the rest of us, they’re selective doubters. They favour a world view, which they uncritically defend. But their worldview isn’t about God, values, freedom, or equality. It’s about the omnipotence of elites.
Conspiracy chatter was once dismissed as mental illness. But the prevalence of such belief, documented in surveys, has forced scholars to take it more seriously. Conspiracy theory psychology is becoming an empirical field with a broader mission: to understand why so many people embrace this way of interpreting history. As you’d expect, distrust turns out to be an important factor. But it’s not the kind of distrust that cultivates critical thinking.
In 1999, a research team headed by Marina Abalakina-Paap, a psychologist at New Mexico State University, published a study of US college students. The students were asked . . .