Friday, July 13, 2012

Why People Believe Weird Things

Michael Shermer’s book “Why People Believe Weird Things,” is his words “about people who share similar beliefs and hopes yet pursue them by very dissimilar methods.” These people are separated into two groups those that use science and those that use pseudoscience to pursue these beliefs and hopes. He uses real life examples to explain his reasoning behind this logic.

Shermer also stated that even smart people believe weird things for non-smart reasons. And that there are three tiers of why people do believe weird things: “1. because hope springs eternal; 2. because thinking can go wrong in general ways; 3. because thinking can go wrong in specific ways. He uses these principles throughout the book to explain the ways in which the circumstances in his stories lead people to believe the wrong thing.

My favorite topic he talked about was in the introduction of his book. Shermer talked about his experience on the set of the TV show Unsolved Mysteries when Shermer was brought in to debunk James Van Praagh a very popular psychic who had his own talk show called The Other Side. Shermer talked about how Praagh had many more incorrect prediction’s then correct ones but people were still amazed by his skill. Shermer accredited it to the fact people needed this; they were all grieving and were looking for a last connection with a loved one. Praagh also used a different form of cold reads then Shermer had seen before he would touch a body part and proclaim that this part of his body was hurting to see if anyone’s reaction might lead him to a correct guess. When Shermer at the end of the show pointed out all of the things that Praagh had picked up on with luck and tricks one women told Shermer he was “inappropriate to destroy peoples hopes during their time of grief.” This amazed me because even after Shermer proved with fact’s that Praagh was a fake people did not believe Shermer because they were grieving and they needed to believe that Praagh had given them some closure.

Shermer like our text book said that the scientific method was the only way to prove validity. He discussed in the section of his book on skepticism, all of types of different performance enhancing techniques he tried when he was a cyclist. He was fresh out of college and began working as a journalist because he couldn’t get a teaching job. He was sent to a press conference and got a chance to speak with John Marino, the man that road across America in 13days 1hour and 20minutes. When Shermer asked what this man had did to prepare he told him many different things from special diets to mud baths to negative ions. When Shermer tried these techniques out on his own he realized that none of them worked and all in some way made him miserable. One of these things was the lemonade diet which my first post for this class was about. Shermer said he collapsed and was ill from this diet when biking with Mr. Marino, a diet that Mr. Marino claimed to have used to bike cross country.          

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