The only thing more stupid than a crowd is… a bigger crowd!
A large number of us take pride in our education and like to project ourselves as being level-headed and full of common-sense (talk about irony!). We pity those fallen to superstition and crystal balls. We ask them…,” duh… who believes in them anyway?”. As if it would be better if a large number of people agreed with them. How difficult is it to actually be level-headed and reasonable?
I had in an earlier post explained the limits of one’s rationality and the dangers that arise when a highly intuitive and rational person is exposed to false information. Apparently, the record setting length of that blog meant that no one made it to the important part of that post.
What does it take to avoid being taken in by Reiki masters, Vassthu, Feng Shui practitioners, Homoeo, Kamalari for AIDS quacks, faith-healers, Vedic scientists, Chiropracters, Osteopathic doctors….. the list is practically endless..?
It is apparent that a rational mind, especially the average kind is just not enough to distinguish the horse-shit from the horse. One’s faculties are further befuddled by the opinions of the masses, which are sometimes the only source of facts for some people. How do the masses form opinions about various subjects? How do they propagate? Is there some kind of imbalance between the speed of absorption of positive and negative news about something.. say, like a cure for a disease?
It is impossible for most individuals to independently assess the validity of most things. If you had a fungal infection and you took a Homoeo “drug” and if the infection eventually went away then you would be prefectly rational in pushing the system to everyone single relative, friend and acquaintance of yours.
Post hoc ergo propter hoc If it happened afterwards, it happened due to it
After all, you are helping them. If someone then takes the medicine on your hear-say and doesn’t get any relief, the doctor tells him that the treatment was just a little off, or that his “vital force” is unable to regain the balance or that maybe he should use higher potency drugs…. which is actually a lower concentration. The reasons that are peddled by the doctor seem to make sense to the intuition of most people. The patient with the uncured probalem simply shuts-up. Thus, only the “benefeciaries” spread their good message. Talk about statistical bias! People do not understand that most diseases are self -limiting and sometimes even incurable diseases like Arthritis, Psoriasis etc. simply go away on their own…
The Placebo Effect
In the field of clinical drug trials, placebos are just as important as the actual drugs. In any trial, there will be three groups of test subjects. A control group, a placebo group and the group that actually takes the drugs. The last two groups are told that they are given the real deal. The tests are usually double-blind, meaning that neither the doctors or the patients directly know who is getting the placebo and who is not. Quite unsurprisingly, the placebo group shows improvements sometimes in as many as 20-30 per cent of the participants, especially for diseases like Hormone imbalance, Autoimmune, pain-relief, sexual dysfunction etc.. Now, the list might ring some bells, because thats exactly the kind of diseases for which alternative therapies like homoeo, osteopathy, magnetic-beds etc. work.
Check out the above link to fully appreciate the role of placebos. They have been used for treating even false pregnancies (Source:Phantoms in the brain). Btw, this cool phenomenon is called Pseudocyesis and it demonstrates just how much control the mind has over the body.
Will there be smoke without a fire?
Now, these old sayings are sometimes bandied about to justify superstitions and funnily enough other old sayings. How, do weird beliefs arise is society? Understanding this is just as important as understanding biological evolution. See the theory about memes http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meme proposed by Dawkins, which tries to explain how crazy ideas evolve. Now, just before reading any new theory, we must understand exactly what a theory is for. It must explain all that has happened and must be able to make useful predictions that can be tested to validate it. Otherwise, it just becomes like the Intelligent Design “Theory” which explains nothing, creates more questions and can’t be tested or applied.
One doesn’t need to mug up the meme theory to get a fair idea of how superstitions arise. Some guys initially propose something and he might have had reasons for that, which might have been rather complicated to understand. People pick up the result, forget the basis, later add their own ideas and fancies and voilà! You have your new idea virus.
A lot of the proponents of fringe stuff like chiropractors, osteopaths, transcendental dudes, mediums etc.. say that science engages in reductionism and fails to see stuff as a whole. They talk about fields, energy, yogic flying(cheaper and eco-friendly)etc.. But the truth is that, these whole systems are founded on perhaps one or two aspects of one’s self. Like alignment of bones, skeletal system, mind, nails, appendix…ok i made the last 2 ones up! Maybe, some diseases can be remedied by these stuff. But, all diseases?? Claims like that should be viewed with scepticism.
Saw the above video? A pretty sick mix of science, wishful thinking and what some people call woo. Notice that one of the guys in the video calls himself a doctor. I wonder where they give those out…
Sometimes, we hear people bragging about totally “cool” stuff like yogic flying, talking with the dead, mind reading etc.. I don’t know why nobody takes note when professional magicians read your mind or why more people “know” this stuff than say… that the universe is pretty big or that time travel happens all the time or that shizoprenia is actually a disease. Our education system totally fails to impress people with the really cool stuff and they just make up with talking with the dead in dark rooms in a semi-hypnotic state.
I must quote the immortal words of House from the coolest serial on the planet House MD
If something isn’t awesome once explained, then it never was awesome in the first place.
Instead of trying to be impressed with mysterious stuff, we should try and learn the joy of knowing. It is harder, but way more fun.