why do people believe things despite facts that are contrary to their beliefs?

This morning I was thinking of an expression I heard it went something like, ‘you can’t convince people to change their beliefs with facts if they did not arrive at those beliefs using facts’. I feel like it might be a quote from someone but I’m not sure who it comes from.

I was just thinking about this in terms of evolution. Evolutionarily If certain beliefs and practices cause social cohesion and increase fitness does it really matter if they are factual? I don’t think it does. Perhaps that’s why people will become so attached to beliefs despite facts that seem to disagree with their beliefs.

This idea would be particularly relevant if ones beliefs are part of a group identity. For example moral beliefs exist because we are social species. So moral beliefs seem to be intrinsically related to group identify and membership. If I believe in a certain moral idea then I will have the acceptance of a certain group that endorses that morality.

Historically you could see why adherence to social rules was important and why being shunned or expelled from the group could be disasterous. It’s interesting because morality isn’t really fact based to begin with. Morality is something that is difficult to ‘prove’ with facts.

I think that even when certain potentially factually verifiable beliefs about the world that some how relate to morality then they are treated in a similar way. The belief even if its verifiably inaccurate must be clung to because it means belonging to the group and increased fitness.

Just some morning ramblings. Time to get on with my day.

Book reading increase when I left Jehovah’s Witnesses

I was browsing audible when I noticed a stats section. It shows how many audibles I had each year from 2013 to 2020.

Now my leaving the Jehovah’s Witnesses was definitely a process. It was journey that I did not intentionally set out on so its hard to say exactly when I started waking up. But looking back I think its fair to say that I was in the process of waking up in 2013 when I was experiencing increased angst due to being in the religion.

So in 2013 I was experiencing great internal angst but I did not realize it was because of the religion. In 2014 the angst continued and I stopped attending meetings. At the end of 2015 I came to the realization that the religion was an extremely toxic and harmful.

From 2013 to 2015 I only had 2 audibles. In 2016 it grew to 7. In 2017 it grew to 13. In 2018 it grew to 33. In 2019 it grew to 44. And in 2020 it grew to 51.

I think its important to point out that especially in the early phases of leaving the JW I was reading many paper books on psychology that are not reflected in these counts. So the audible stats are not entirely reflective of my book consumption over the past 7 years. Its also relevant that a few of the audibles are not actually books but rather exercise or medication audios.

But its still an interesting graph 🙂

Listening to the voice of our ancestors

Around 2015 I escaped the toxic high control fundamentalist religion that I was born into. I immediately began hating religion and traditional ideas. Its not really surprising because even the fundamentalist religion taught me to hate other religions and their teachings. They tought me to hate other religious holidays. They tought me to hate traditional cultural celebrations.

So for a while thats how I felt. If it was religious, conservative, or traditional it was the devil. But as time has passed my hurtful wounds have closed and I have spent a lot of time studying evolution, psychology, and science. The product of this has left me with a shift in opinion.

After leaving my toxic religion the scientist in me felt compelled to analyze every bit of it. Why do they say and do the things they did? How could people be so toxic? so blind? One thing that I observed is that there is typically a hidden utility in the various teachings and practices. Sometimes the hidden utility was nefarious but sometimes it wasn’t.

So for example they teach member to shun anyone who leaves and critizes the religion. The explicit explanation for shunning is that shunning is required to keep the congregation pure and spiritually clean. The practicle reason for this is that someone who is critical may cause other memeber to become critical as well. There for as a matter of practice criticism must not be allowed.

Now there are many other practices in religion that are similar. Were there is a hidden reason for the practice. Take for example the teaching that drunkenness’ is a sin. The religion would say that god hates drunks or that sin weakens our relationship with god. But the reality is that the avoidence of alcoholism has other benefits.

My beliefs are that religion, beliefs, and morals are not that different then government and law. In our society we view them a separate things. But for most of human history they were one the same or perhaps deeply intertwined. My belief is that some of these ideas evolved to fill a certain purpose. All that mattered from a evolutionary standpoint is that the teachings effect your behavior. Evolution doesn’t care if you understand the rule. It doesn’t care if the rule makes sense. All that matters is the change in behavior.

Now I say evolution and I could be talking about biological evolution or I could be talking about the evolution of ideas. I’d say in the case of religion and moral beliefs I am talking about both. Moral ideas are just ideas about social behavior. We have biologically evolved to be a very social species. We have also evolved to be a species that relies heavily on learning to produce our behaviors. It makes sense that there would be a symbiotic relationship between teaching our selves moral/social behavior and our biological predisposition for moral/social behavior.

Basically the idea is that religious practices, teachings, even “laws” have evolved to teach us something. They have evolved over time to shape culture and shape our behavior in certain ways.. Some times the end behavioral result of the religious rule might not be immediately evident. This is because often times these ideas evolved organically over time and evolved in a world were people had little understanding of the natural world.

After leaving religion I wanted to toss all of these things in the trash. However now I think there is great danger in throwing out some of these rules. That being said I don’t believe that every traditional idea or religious teaching is worth keeping. I just think that the these things need to be carefully examined. I think there needs to be a hesitance to get rid of them. I think indiscriminately discarding these religious or traditional ideas could have severe consequences for society.

Because we are a species that has biological predisposition for social behaviors and we are species that relies heavily on learning then it is imperative that we have a system to teach us morality. If intelligent morality isn’t taught we will still learn. But who knows what it is that we will learn. Without moral guidance from our parents and ancestors I suspect what we learn will be undesirable for our species and society.

So many ideas in my head

I spend a lot of time thinking. In fact its one of my favorite activities. For better or worse, I find thinking to be more rewarding that many other activities. Some people find running or lifting weights to be rewarding. I wonder if I get a similar high from just thinking.

Anyways I feel like I have so many great ideas that get in my head and that I need to get out. Maybe its arrogant to think this. Maybe everyone thinks this way about their thoughts. It’s possible that these feelings are due to some sort of nieveness on my part.

Despite these possibilities I still feel like I have great ideas and I need to get out of my head. Ideas I would like to do something with. I was thinking I should just keep a journal again. Or maybe I should just make blog posts.

There are problems with these ideas. One is I am not sure I just want to share my private ideas publicly because I don’t know what kind of ramifications that could possibly have. I think that privately journaling my ideas is probably a good idea. An issue I have i with that is though I want to do more with my ideas than just right them down privately. I want to share them. I want to discuss them. I want to collaborate with them.

For most of my life I’ve had to keep much of my ideas private. I want my favorite activities to be social not just private. I feel like I desire my favorite activity of thinking to be a social activity not a private one. Is that even possible?

Documentaries

So I’ve long had an interest in making documentaries. I remember way back in idk 2013 maybe when I took my trip to Arizona I was thinking about it. Recently I’ve been thinking about it again.

I have very little experience in making videos other than the videos I made for my MisterMiceGuy videos. They weren’t the best videos but I was working on it and working on how to make them better. While I was doing that most of my videos were of my hands and the mice. I discovered I don’t really like filming myself. Especially not in this talk-straight-to-the-camera youtube style. I suppose I could get better at it with time but I am just not drawn to it.

I don’t feel like my personality is really suited for entertaining people in front of a camera either. Despite this I still have this interest in making educational content, and maybe documentary style videos. I was watching some tutorials the other day that inspired me.

In the videos they had this interview style setup where the person speaking was looking at an angle away from the camera. Like they are speaking to an interviewer and not directly to the camera. I wonder if I could do this and make auto-biographical content? Could I do something like this but include content about mice? Psychology? Biology?

I am not really sure if it would work but I think the potential is there and I would like to explore it.

3rd dating experience

So there was a third girl I met up with, lets call her Laura.  This girl presented as an intellectual and rationally minded person.  She was also Puerto Rican.  I dubbed her a “Skeptical Unicorn” for being both non-religious and Latina, which is something that seems rare.

Laura was cool and into all sorts of science-y things that I also enjoy.  Being Non-Religious is one of the qualities that is important to me.  However as I have discovered there is a difference between someone who is from mainstream america and is more or less passive about religion and some who who has to fight and make sacrifices for what they believe in.

The topic of politics came up and I said that I describe my beliefs as being liberal in nature but I also tend to not agree with people who describe their beliefs as being liberal.  I explained that so-called liberals often want to deny my experience and tell me what my experience is and who I am  She wanted an example.

So I gave for example my part Native American ethnicity. She immediately responded saying that my ethnicity “didn’t count” and that Native American Ancestry only “counts” if you have someone who is full blood 5 generations or less ago.  To me it seemed like she was doing exactly what I was talking about.

Later I gave the example of  my experience being raised in a cult and escaping fundamentalism.  She said that I was “privileged” and that despite being born into a fundamentalist dooms day cult and being robbed of identity and autonomy that I had never experienced oppression.

We didn’t seem to agree on a bunch of things.  Ironically, we did seem to agree and bond over our dislike of white female feminism though.  Laura also shared a story about how she went to Africa and had the experience of being viewed as a “White girl” rather than as her typical identity as a Latina.

I’m not sure how to explain it but I feel like somewhere in sharing her experience in Africa she seemed to get what I was talking about.  I hung out with Laura once or twice but I guess I just didn’t feel anything.  The chemistry wasn’t there or whatever.

Unconditional Positive Regard

Jehovah’s Witnesses are often judgmental and have a black and white view of the world. XJWs might carry on with these traits without knowing even it.  This will hamper their personal growth as well as their capacity to help others.  So let me introduce you to a concept in psychology called Unconditional Positive Regard.

Continue reading Unconditional Positive Regard

What is the value of life?

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that if we obey their rules we will live forever.  Either by means of resurrection to heaven or to an earthly paradise.  They teach that when people we love die they aren’t really dead.  Instead, they are merely sleeping and we will see them again.  This belief helps soothe the existential dread that many people experience.  But what happens when you leave Jehovah’s Witnesses or other faith?  How can you view life and death?  Let’s take a moment and talk about life and its value.

Continue reading What is the value of life?

PhD Student, Cognitive Behavioral Neuroscience