Most of us feel comfortable laughing at people who believe stupid things. It’s entertaining. Flat Earthers. Anti-Vaxxers. People who put pineapple on pizza. We attribute their confusion to a lack of brain power and move on with our lives.
But the things that really stumps us is when people who we know to be intelligent, reasonable people join them in believing something that seems obviously wrong to us. Or even worse, when we’re caught believing something stupid ourselves.
But the truth is, none of us is immune to the power of bad ideas. In fact, highly intelligent people can be more susceptible, as they’re better at creating convincing rationale for beliefs they accepted for dumb reasons. Here’s Michael Shermer on the subject:
Rarely do any of us sit down before a table of facts, weigh them pro and con, and choose the most logical and rational explanation, regardless of what we previously believed. Most of us, most of the time, come to our beliefs for a variety of reasons having little to do with empirical evidence and logical reasoning.
Rather, such variables as genetic predisposition, parental predilection, sibling influence, peer pressure, educational experience and life impressions all shape the personality preferences that, in conjunction with numerous social and cultural influences, lead us to our beliefs. We then sort through the body of data and select those that most confirm what we already believe, and ignore or rationalize away those that do not.
The fact is, we become most vulnerable to bad thinking when we believe that we aren’t capable of it. Being intelligent doesn’t mean you can’t believe something stupid, it means you’re willing to admit the possibility that you do.