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The Enchanted Glass

Francis Bacon and experimental psychologists show why the facts in science never just speak for themselves
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In the first trimester of the gestation of science, one of science’s midwives, Francis Bacon, penned an immodest work entitled Novum Organum (“new tool,” after Aristotle’s Organon) that would open the gates to the “Great Instauration” he hoped to inaugurate through the scientific method. Rejecting both the unempirical tradition of scholasticism and the Renaissance quest to recover and preserve ancient wisdom, Bacon sought a blend of sensory data and reasoned theory.

Cognitive barriers that color clear judgment presented a major impediment to Bacon’s goal. He identified four: idols of the cave (individual peculiarities), idols of the marketplace (limits of language), idols of the theater (preexisting beliefs) and idols of the tribe (inherited foibles of human thought). (continue reading…)

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Smart People Believe Weird Things

Rarely does anyone weigh facts
before deciding what to believe
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In April 1999, when I was on a lecture tour for my book Why People Believe Weird Things, the psychologist Robert Sternberg attended my presentation at Yale University. His response to the lecture was both enlightening and troubling. It is certainly entertaining to hear about other people’s weird beliefs, Sternberg reflected, because we are confident that we would never be so foolish. But why do smart people fall for such things? Sternberg’s challenge led to a second edition of my book, with a new chapter expounding on my answer to his question: Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons. (continue reading…)

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