“You’re an idiot.” ~ Dr. Gregory House
The human mind, while truly one of the greatest achievements of Natural Selection, is easily deceived. We, as a species of perceptive animals, tend to see patterns where none exist. This is known as the Clustering Illusion, or Apophenia. On the ground level, this simply means that we as individuals will try to extrapolate meaning from our experiences where no greater meaning exists. If we were capable of perceiving all human experiences instantaneously we would be a lot less susceptible to this error, as we would understand that the variety of human experience allows for a great deal of different occurrences, even some that seem to follow a pattern.
To put it another way, let me present you with “Littlewood’s Law of Miracles”:
You are out and about and barraged by the world for some eight hours a day. You see and hear things happening at a rate of maybe one per second, amounting to 30,000 or so “events” a day, or a million per month. The vast majority of events you barely notice, but every so often, from the great stream of happenings, you are treated to a marvel: the pianist at the bar starts playing a song you’d just been thinking of, or you pass the window of a pawnshop and see the heirloom ring that had been stolen from your apartment eighteen months ago. Yes, life is full of miracles, minor, major, middling C. It’s called “not being in a persistent vegetative state” and “having a life span longer than a click beetle’s.”
[quoted text taken from The Canon by Natalie Angier; definitely worth a read]
Since we are all self-absorbed beings in the truest sense of the word, instead of thinking of the events of our life as a meaningless series of events that will occasionally offer up it’s fair share of coincidences (both good and bad), we ignore the millions of insignificant events that happen to us yearly in order to focus on the dozen or so seemingly portentous moments.
The other problem with our minds is that once we have accepted an explanation for an occurrence, it is incredibly difficult for us to dislodge that ‘fact’ even once it has been disproved. An example of this are the so-called Alien Crop Circles. In England in the 1970s, two pranksters secretly created elaborate patterns in a farm field. This led to the belief that these patterns were created by aliens. Soon, many copycat pranksters continued the ruse. In the 90s, the original pranksters admitted that they had created the patterns, which, you would think, should have killed for good the belief that crop circles are the product of alien visitations. Sadly, that is not the case. Even confronted with the fact that the original crop circles were fake, some people continue to believe that crop circles are genuinely the work of aliens (why aliens would be so fascinated with cutting doodles into fields of corn, no one seems to be able to explain).
When taken together, even in the face of scientific proof, logical evidence and just plain common sense, humans are capable of believing the most preposterous loads of shit. It seems that, despite the truly remarkable power of our minds, in many ways we refuse to leave behind that absolutely asinine beliefs and preconceptions that our earliest ancestors adopted. It’s pathetic.
I’ll let Dr. House reiterate my point: You’re an idiot.
The world is full of idiots, so take solace in the fact that probably every person you engaged with today is an idiot for some reason or another. While you may very well be an idiot for a great many reasons (including your admiration of Glenn Beck), here is my Top 10 List of reasons you might… rather, you definitely are an idiot:
1. You believe in psychics/tarot cards/palm readings/ etc (this includes thinking that one of your friends “has a gift. I’m not saying she’s psychic, but it’s spooky…”). It doesn’t matter how many times they make wrong predictions (or predictions too vague to mean anything), you’ll only focus on the one or two right ones, won’t ya?
2. You believe in Ghosts and spirits (including Angels and Demons). Why? Because you heard a noise in the dark when you were 5? Grow up.
3. You buy lottery tickets regularly. The odds are not in your favor. It does not matter how many times you buy a ticket. Instead, send the money directly to me. You won’t win anything, but I’ll have a big bottle of Jack Daniels. And really, I think that’s a win for everyone.
4. You read horoscopes for any purpose other than perverse amusement. The idea that the stars affect our fate should have evaporated the instant we understood what stars truly are (centuries ago). But, nope. People still buy into this horseshit.
5. You believe in alien abductions. Seriously? You believe this? Let me guess, you were abducted, right? Oh, no, maybe it was your uncle? Tell you what, the next time the aliens come by, ask them to leave the probe up your ass, that way you’ll have proof and that throbbing pleasure you love so much.
6. You believe in lucky charms (not the cereal), omens, good or bad luck or any other superstitious nonsense like black cats and lucky rabbit’s feet. It amazes me in this day and age that there could be anyone that still believed any of this old world shit held any weight… but you’re out there.
7. You believe in Serendipity. It’s called coincidence, dumbass. Read a book on statistics and probability and stop wasting our time, John Cusack.
8. You think a snowstorm disproves Global Warming/Climate Change. Putting aside whether or not man-caused Climate Change is real (it is), are you really saying that you think the argument that over the past 30 years the temperatures has steadily raised is disproved because in winter it snowed a lot? Do you understand that Climate is a global phenomenon and that if the planet increases an average of 1° many species will be adversely affected? Once again, you’re falling into the trap of believing that your personal experience represents all of existence. We, being homo sapiens, may not notice immediate change, especially as a global climate can indeed fluctuate and because winter isn’t suddenly just going to stop happening. If man-made Global Warming is a erroneous belief or a lie (it’s not), it will not be a blizzard that proves it wrong. If you’re more convinced by a week of snow then decades of data, you should go ahead and invest in all those lottery tickets. This weeks your week, I can feel it.
9. You think the moon landing was a hoax or you think 9/11 was an inside job or you think the government is hiding aliens or any other number of conspiracy theories. The mind’s tendency to see patterns in random events is also being used here when people try to see ulterior motives in large events. You can give explanations for why you believe these conspiracies to be valid, and some of your explanations may even sound reasonable, but the more important question is always going to be, What’s the Point? I don’t mean, why would we fake a moon landing (to stay ahead of the Russians) or blow up the twin towers (an excuse to go to war), as reasons are easy to come up with. I mean, if we have a government (or world power) that’s capable of perpetuating these hoaxes and lies, why are they so lousy at doing everything else.
We faked the moon landing to defeat the Russians and once we did we overthrew them… 20 years later, after their own errors and poor political decisions undermined their power.
We killed our own people and blew up the World Trade Center so we could attack Iraq… and ended up in an unpopular, unsuccessful war that has done very little practical good for us as a country (we didn’t even get free oil out of the deal). Who really benefited from us going into Iraq, and of those few who did benefit, how many of those people could have been in a position to arrange the 9/11 attacks?
And aliens? I can’t even begin to imagine what hiding aliens from the world would possibly accomplish or prevent. It’s just stupid.
And finally, you’re an idiot if
10. You believe in God.
Yeah, that one is obviously meant to bait people. But let’s look at it in the terms of the aforementioned mind delusions. Those of you who believe in the omniscient, personal God very well dismiss belief in psychics or aliens (or Santa Claus or Big Foot), yet your evidence for God is the same as any other credulous, superstitious nitwit. Your personal experience is a series of events and emotional footnotes that your mind has weaved together to create a narrative, a narrative you hold onto in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
The ‘miracles’ you have experienced are chance happenings that have taken on greater weight exactly because you wish to equate them with a divine order. Yet, what are these miracles? A family member recovering from a severe illness? Happens all the time, though not as often in parts of the world where medical science isn’t as advanced as it is here. I wonder why God performs less miracles in Africa.
Maybe the miracle was that you were a drunk, drugged out loser and one day a person came into your life and rescued you from your own vices and brought you to church where you ‘experienced’ Christ’s love. Sound familiar? Well, every Christian has heard a version of that story if it’s not their own. But how is that a miracle? Or rather, how is that any more of a miracle than the guy who successfully passes A.A. or the girl who one day wakes up and changes her life around on pure will? And why is God so selective with his miracles that while you or your loved one kicked the habit another guy is choking to death on his own vomit this very minute? It’s not a miracle that some people overcome obstacles and others don’t, it’s just odds (and evolution).
God, like the alien crop circles, is the result of people trying to explain inexplicable phenomenon and then holding onto that explanation even once the true reasons are understood. God was once the answer for every thing from the rising sun to lightning strikes to illnesses. All of these ‘mysteries’ have long been answered as we understand nature to a greater degree. The basic aspects of the natural world once explained by the concept of God have long ago been given over to natural processes, yet the idea of God remains persistently in our human consciousness. If our species knew back in the beginning what we know now, the concept of God never would have existed. Alas.
Belief in God can just as easily be belief in anything. The mystical force and influence you ascribe to the deity of your choice could just as easily be the handiwork of any number of X-Files villains.
There is a famous atheist quote: “When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.” ~ Stephen F. Roberts
Apply that to this discussion. When you understand why you dismiss aliens, ghosts, psychics, your great uncle’s earthquake predicting twitchy knee, you’ll understand why I dismiss belief in God.