Popular Beliefs
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every day we are confronted with paranormal supernatural or extraordinary beliefs these claims find us no matter where we go at the drug store homeopathic medicines are on the shelves right next to science based treatments the newspaper offers an astrological prediction of your future a preacher promises that if you give him money you will be rewarded 100-fold via the supernatural hand of a god TV commercial suggests that we can have better health through the pill or be better athletes if we wear a special bracelet a friend swear she saw an alien spaceship in the sky last night a family member tries to convince you that the end of the world is near is that strange noise you heard before falling asleep a ghost when weird ideas come along we owe it to ourselves to pause and think before accepting them as real or true bad things can happen when people embrace beliefs for reasons no better than trust and authority or tradition or because it feels true countless people have died throughout history because they were not skeptical enough countless people have supported or participated in the exploitation abuse and even killing a fellow humans because they were not skeptical enough wherever and whenever skepticism is lacking serious problems are sure to follow medical quacks and con artists cause great harm to people who don't know the difference between science and pseudoscience how many times throughout history have unproven supernatural beliefs stood in the way of social and scientific progress where might we be today if we had rejected superstition five centuries ago but the shortage of skepticism in the world today is not only a burden to advancement it threatens to drag us back to the dark ages wait did we ever really leave the dark ages even now in the 21st century witches are tortured and executed in some societies because people fear their magical powers many people still look to the stars and planets for insights into their personality and romantic specs even though the scientists who know more about the stars and planets than anyone say astrology is a preposterous concept millions believe that psychics read minds and the government is hiding extraterrestrial bodies at area 51 as a species we are crippled by irrational beliefs if we hope to ever shake-off the costly and time-wasting habit of believing things that are almost certainly not true then we have to embrace the scientific method and skepticism critical thinking skills must be appreciated and promoted widely progress depends on it paranormal and supernatural beliefs loosely defined as things that exist or occur outside the natural world are not necessarily tied to intelligence or education there may be some correlation between education level and the acceptance of a baseless claim such as tarot card reading or astrology for example but I warn against reading too much into that because we're all vulnerable it is well established that intelligent and educated people can and do believe extraordinary claims that lack good evidence renowned scientist Jane Goodall is a Bigfoot believer for example I once worked with the University educated journalist who was convinced that a girl in Russia had x-ray vision that enabled her to see inside people and diagnose internal medical problems my colleague was reeled in hook line and sinker by an interesting but unproven claim she isn't dumb just short on skepticism and critical thinking skills and she is hardly alone when it comes to weird beliefs accepting them seems to be more natural or more human than rejecting them according to a gallup poll 3 and every four Americans profess to hold at least one of the popular beliefs such as ghosts astrology and reincarnation this is important most people in the United States and throughout the world no doubt are supernatural paranormal believers in America ESP extrasensory perception leads with forty-one percent followed closely by haunted houses thirty-seven percent and ghosts thirty-two percent clairvoyance or the ability of psychics to read minds and know the future is real according to twenty-six percent of Americans astrology's claims have convinced twenty-five percent and twenty percent believe in reincarnation more than half fifty-seven percent of all american adults have at least two paranormal beliefs and twenty-two percent say they believe five or more seventy-five percent believe in heaven forty percent believe in ufos sixty percent believe in the devil forty-two percent believe in ghosts thirty-two percent believe in the rapture sixteen percent believe in bigfoot twenty-three percent believe in witches forty-one percent believe in atlantis eighty-two percent believe in god or gods seventy-six percent believe in miracles and forty percent believe in creationism in Great Britain forty percent of British people believe that houses can be haunted and twenty-four percent believe astrology works in Canada twenty-eight percent believe in haunted houses and twenty-four percent believe that it's possible to communicate with dead people I didn't conduct a scientific survey but my travels outside the United States leave me with no doubt that belief in claims that are unproven and unlikely to be true are immensely popular virtually everywhere I visited Africa the Middle East Asia the Pacific Islands the Caribbean I came to the conclusion that an overwhelming majority of people believe in an assortment of paranormal and pseudo scientific claims without even including religious beliefs I estimate that more than ninety percent of the world's people hold at least one paranormal belief we are a believing species who cares the easy reaction would be to just try to ignore all this irrational belief after all don't things like astrology faith healing and psychic readings make people feel good and give them a bit of reassuring and often confusing and scary world who am I to try to rob anyone of a source of comfort or amusement it's none of my business what people decide to believe right what's the harm anyway in my opinion there is no choice but to speak out against a rational belief if one has any concern and compassion for fellow humans it doesn't require being mean or obnoxious about it but silence is not an option belief in paranormal and pseudoscience claims is a chronic crisis that burdens us century after century those who do understand the damage caused by these beliefs every day around the world would be heartless monsters that they chose to do and say nothing this is a matter of compassion for fellow humans and I believe that our world could be better if we're not so blinded and hobbled by superstition and unscientific thinking I am NOT being mean and heartless when I explain to someone while turn ative medicine is dangerous or how faith healers fool people keeping quiet would be mean and heartless the proper question is not why skeptics protest but rather how anyone can learn of child witches being murdered in Africa and feel no moral obligation to promote skepticism who can hear the story about an ill baby suffering and dying because stubborn parents treated her with homeopathic water instead of science-based medicine and not feel disgust toward all pseudo science and medical quackery we all share this world together and when an elected leader thinks earth is 6,000 years old or your neighbor believes that the position of a few stars determines what sort of day she will have the stage is set for trouble dim thinking is dangerous thinking the shield of skepticism so how exactly does one wade through all the weird claims out there and make it to dry land safely it's not as difficult as you might imagine it often takes only one or two pointed questions to identify fatal weaknesses and claims that are unworthy of our belief constructive skepticism is compatible with open curiosity but it demands consistent vigilance and the courage to question anything and anyone it is important to always remember that the burden of proof is on those who make the claim I would love for Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster to be real but I'm pretty sure there is no such thing as a ten-foot tall bipedal primate running wild in the Pacific Northwest or an extinction dodging pliosaur in Scotland I think this because after all these years no one has ever presented any convincing evidence such as bones DNA samples or a body if Bigfoot believers want me to believe they need to show me proof it's not my job to disprove the existence of Bigfoot how could I do such a thing anyway I can't look in every cave and behind every tree in North America be on guard against stealth beliefs these are partial truths that swell to include paranormal elements once you let them inside your hand for example undoubtedly there are many cases of ancient coastal or island communities being devastated by earthquakes and tsunamis over the last several thousand years but this is far different from the claim made by lantus believers who say a lost city or continent once ruled the world and was technologically advanced beyond even our time some UFO believers argue that intelligent life probably exists somewhere in the universe a reasonable possibility but then they seamlessly shifted the claim that extraterrestrials are visiting Earth regularly unknown unproven and unlikely we also have to be on the lookout for claims that are dressed up in science but are in fact pseudoscience just because someone New Age guru Deepak Chopra is a good example frequently mentions quantum mechanics or other fancy science phrases does not mean that what they are promoting is necessarily valid or even scientific the bigger the claim the bigger the burden of proof the smart skeptic adjusts the demand for evidence according to the scale of the claim being made the nature of the claim being made how outrageous or weird is it determines the degree of skepticism required if my neighbor's claim they saw a bird in their backyard yesterday I'll probably give them the benefit of the doubt and believe it no big deal however if they claim to have seen something far more unusual say a 30-ton dragon wearing leather pants and makeup then I'm going to need to see high-definition video footprints and a DNA sample before I even consider believing it again the quality and quantity of evidence should rise in conjunction with the claim although the quote did not originate with them the latest Ron amor Carl Sagan popularized this important concept extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence keep those five words in mind whenever you think about ghosts gods astrology psychics intelligent design UFOs and other such beliefs being a skeptic does not mean one is closed minded or uninterested in everything that is weird and unproven the history of science is filled with examples of bizarre ideas that turned out to be true germs were once a pretty strange idea and were difficult to believe until then Leeuwenhoek developed the microscope and helped establish the field of microbiology continental drift was difficult to accept until plate tectonics explained how it worked the idea of rogue waves smashing ships under clear skies far out at sea seemed impossible but we now know that they are real what about meteorites rocks falling out of the sky you must be joking oops it turns out that really does rain rocks sometimes the point is that good skeptics who understand how science works don't accept any wacky claim that comes along without evidence but neither do they reject every wacky claim without absolute finality the door is always slightly ajar and if enough evidence comes forth the door to acceptance opens when thinking about weird beliefs it is important to be aware of how we see Eve and assess the world around us we know that humans are pattern seeking creatures without even trying we naturally attempt to connect the dots in almost everything we see in here this is a great ability if you are trying to catch a camouflaged bird in a tree for your dinner trying to hear a potential mates call amid a cacophony of distractions or trying to spy your enemy hiding in the forest hoping to ambush you but pattern seeking also leads us to see things that are not there which might waste our time and maybe get us into trouble furthermore our obsession with patterns doesn't stop at vision and hearing we also have a tendency to automatically make connections and find patterns and our thinking that is one reason that a likely conspiracy theories are able to take root and blossom in the minds of so many people former psychic turned skeptic toric Musa agrees that this pattern recognition software in our hands is a primary reason irrational beliefs are so common he saw it first end when his clients made absurd connections in order to support their prior belief that he was a genuine mind reader their minds did much of the work making his job easier we are by nature incredible at picking out patterns but this also means we see patterns where there are in fact none said Musa this to me is the explanation behind all the supernatural or superstitious engagements people have from UFOs to ghosts from conspiracy theories to astrology confirmation bias one of the primary reasons that it can be so hard to dump a paranormal belief once it is set up camp inside your soul is that we all have a natural tendency to cheat we just don't normally think about our beliefs objectively and honestly instead we tend to focus on and remember anything that confirms the belief while missing ignoring and forgetting everything that contradicts or cast doubt on the belief this is called confirmation bias and it can lead the best of us astray so be on guard the confirmation bias is one of the most insidious and persuasive bits of software in your head declare psychology professor Hank Davis author of caveman logic the persistence of primitive thinking in a modern world it is as much a part of being human as having two eyes one nose and two feet to avoid evaluating the world through the confirmation bias you have got to take conscious steps against it even then there is no guarantee you will succeed if you allow your mental software to operate on its Pleistocene default settings you will bring the spires into play you have been warned seeing is believing and believing is seeing there should be little doubt that many claimed sightings of ghosts UFOs angels and monsters by sincere witnesses are a result of the way our vision works contrary to what you may have assumed we don't really see what we look at what happens when you aim your eyes at something is that your brain tells you what you see and your brain never tells you with 100% accuracy it does this to be efficient and it really does help us function in a world with far too much detail and movement to take in but sometimes this causes us to see things that were never there or at least not there in the form presented to us it can also cause us to miss things that really are there sometimes things that our vision mrs. might have been the critical pieces of information that would have revealed to us that the UFO or ghost hovering out there is really just a bird or patch of fog for example forget what you think you know about memory what is currently known about human memory should send jarring ways of doubt up and down the spines of every paranormal enthusiasts memory researchers have discovered does not work like a video camera many people think our eyes are like camera lenses and the brain is a hard drive that dutifully records all the images that enter not so there is no such capturing of complete scenes before us and no such thing as rewind and play back the reality is that our memories are constructed by our brains some things are left out some things that ever happened around and sometimes the order of events is switched around weird as it seems your brain produces the memory that it thinks is needed 100% accuracy be damned this means of course that all those standalone stories about sightings and encounters with everything from aliens to angels cannot be considered proof of anything because we know without a doubt that any honest sane and sober person can easily remember an event incorrectly through no fault of his own human memory is unreliable which means something more than a story about a personal experience is called for when it comes to extraordinary claims it also has been shown repeatedly by researchers that we are all highly vulnerable to suggestions and prior beliefs when forming our perception of reality and our recollections of what we experienced Michael Shermer founding publisher of skeptic magazine has spent more than 30 years researching weird beliefs and talking to everyone from alien abductee use to Holocaust deniers to psychics he thinks that much of a rational belief comes down to belief dependent realism the idea that we believe first and then come up with reasons for believing we form our beliefs for a variety of subjective personal emotional and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family friends colleagues culture and society at large after forming our beliefs we then defend justify and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons cogent arguments and rational explanations beliefs come first explanations for beliefs follow I call this process belief dependent realism where our perceptions about reality are dependent on the beliefs that we hold about it reality exists independent of human minds but our understanding of it depends upon the beliefs we hold at any given time like it or not the fact is we can't be sure about every we see here think feel and remember this has obvious implications for popular beliefs that's so intrigued in a trance billions of people around the world more people need to understand that our brains wonderful as they are are not very good at consistently sorting out reality from fantasy and illusion fortunately we already have a system that is very good at doing just that science helps us find our way an appreciation for science goes hand in hand with constructive skepticism it's unfortunate that so many people don't appreciate Sciences greatness and its importance to us science is not just a collection of facts and discoveries or some fringe pursuit of intellectuals science is the foundation of our modern world our civilization couldn't last one day without the products of the scientific method however science can be used by anyone for many different purposes so no one should ever slip into naive worship or deference to all scientists yes science may generate cures and vaccines for diseases feed billions through scientific agriculture and reveal the working of the universe but it is also the source of weapons with the potential to destroy humanity science may be necessary and wonderful but it is only as good as the person using its methods more than anything science is a method for figuring out and discovering things in our universe it is also through science that we can best determine whether or not something is real if something cannot be proven scientifically it may still be real or true but this would be a very good reason to have strong downs until it is we know science works because it has a record of success far superior to anything else even supernatural and paranormal believers rely on science and technology when they could try solutions more in line with their beliefs people who need to communicate with someone far away don't use ESP they pick up the phone people who want to vis place that is far away don't use astral projection they board an airplane many believer is an alternative medicine still turned to medical science when struck by a serious illness or injury why do most people who believe in a utopian afterlife fear death and avoided at all costs a final point to keep in mind when thinking about paranormal supernatural and pseudo scientific beliefs is that letting go of them is not necessarily a sacrifice not only can thinking skeptically be safer and more economical over the course of a lifetime it doesn't have to be any less fun either whatever I may have lost by not believing in things like astrology and ghosts I am confident that i more than make up for it by embracing reality with great enthusiasm all scientific discoveries to date and all the mysteries still to be solved excite me and I find plenty of reason for optimism and hope even amid harsh realities in my opinion plenty of comfort and joy can be found in friends family romance creative work adventure art acts of kindness nature and fun in all its forms I understand that it may feel comforting or stabilizing to believe that invisible forces influence us but it can also be comforting and stabilizing to realize that as humans we are smart enough and strong enough to face up to the universe as it really is and get on with our lives

"Beliefs and practices that have little or no scientific evidence."
No one can absolutely prove Bigfoot doesn't exist. No one can prove intelligent Aliens from another planet never visited earth. No one can disprove the existence of ghosts or fairies (a popular belief in the middle ages). But credible evidence for all these things is lacking. Just sayin.

So why do people believe things there is no evidence for?

We can't see germs with our naked eyes but we have lots of indisputable evidence for germs, even without microscopes. There's a good reason to believe germs exist.

And even if we didn't have our fossil record, we still have indisputable genetic evidence for evolution… regardless of creationist's claims to the contrary.

Could all six of the moon landing have been faked? It's possible! But there is no credible evidence they were faked, and lots of solid evidence that NASA (between 1969 and 1972) successfully sent astronauts to land on the moon and return safely. Six times.

We have some evidence for string theory, but not conclusive evidence, (as far as I know) so we have to suspend judgment about string theory until better evidence is discovered.

We have some good evidence for the Higgs particle, and for "dark matter" but we lack conclusive evidence (as far as I know). We have to suspend judgment… for now.

Some people trust medical science, but they don't trust climate science… for political reasons. And some people trust the science on climate change but don't trust the science on vaccines… for other reasons.

Can a consensus of experts or scientists around the world be wrong? Yes. But a consensus of experts is right far more often than it's wrong. Betting on a scientific consensus is almost always a good bet.

Lastly, some people just believe what they want to believe, or need to believe, or were taught to believe, regardless of the evidence or lack of evidence. We might call that faith.

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