Monday, November 28, 2005

Escaping Mind Traps

A Mind Trap (see also, Jedi Mind Trick) is a picture of the world that is self-reinforcing. Once inside the mind trap, everything you see will be confirmation that the picture is correct. The mind trapper usually attaches some strings to the trap so that you give them money or follow their commands.

So how do you tell whether someone is trapping you or telling you something real about the world?

When someone tells you something real about the world, they are making a prediction of some kind. For example, if someone tells you that it is less expensive to give people prescription drugs than it is to pay for the consequences of not doing so, they're making a testable prediction.

However, if they tell you God exists, and you should act in certain prescribed ways, but that nothing you ever see will ever be in contradiction with their holy book, well... reach for your light saber! The messenger is either stuck in the trap or is the trapsetter him/herself.

Evidence cannot point to a conclusion when that conclusion does not predict the evidence. Being consistent with the evidence isn't enough for inference.

A lot of people don't understand this. This is why there are numerous mutually-exclusive belief systems that make no predictions, and why believers in such systems always see the evidence (indeed, all things) as confirming their beliefs. Once inside the trap, believers often give up their critical thinking, outsource their ethical analysis, pay the trapsetter large sums of cash, and in the worst case scenario, do harm to others.

Believing in pictures of the world that make no predictions is the surest way to self-delusion.

By the way, Intelligent Design also "predicts" whatever you observe, no matter what you observe. It, too, is a mental trap. Accept its premise and you'll see designed stuff everywhere, but nothing you ever see will be inconsistent with Intelligent Design.


Peg said...

Hey, happy belated Thanksgiving Doc! Hunting season opened here today...I sent some your way. ;-0}

Mark J Musante said...

The only part I'm stuck on is that I can make statements I know to be true, but there is no way for YOU to know they're true. For example, I can say I dreamt about ducks last night.

This is clearly an observation about the physical world - the dream took place in my brain, electrons flowing along neurons, which is a physical object. That object observed and interpreted the data to be ducks. I woke up and knew it to be a dream. However, there is no way for you to verify that. There's nothing testable about it.

Doctor Logic said...


Hmmm. You would be presenting evidence that you dreamed about ducks. If you were also claiming that people generally dream about ducks, wouldn't that be verifiable (at least, in principle)?

My saber remains holstered. :)

rob said...

Hi Doc,
Isn't religion in large part based on historical accounts of God's existence? So that really a belief indicates an acceptance that the text is factual and not fantasy whereas a non-believer would think the opposite.
Since no more obvious miracles are being performed (burning bushes or the time he made all those sandwhiches)it is no wonder one would lose faith.


Doctor Logic said...

Hi rob,

Isn't religion in large part based on historical accounts of God's existence?

I don't think so. The majority of Christians don't believe the Bible is literally true. So, if you ask a theist if there was anything they could see that would cause them not to believe in God, they generally answer in the negative. In other words, their religious views don't have anything to do with experience.

This isn't surprising when you consider that if the Bible was unearthed yesterday, no one would pay much attention. And look at the Mormons and the Scientologists. The stories behind their holy books are so suspect that no one would accept them as evidence in a court of law, except as evidence of fraud and deception. Yet they have hundreds of thousands of believers. People are willing to give up their objectivity and sense of reality for their favored religion (but they still think all the other religions are frauds).

There are thousands of religions and cults. Atheists only believe in one less religion than other people.

rob said...

So then, the big question is why believe at all?

Fear factor?

It can't solely be indoctrination because people often jump ship to another holey boat, right?

Ah see, here I go again asking why people do the things they do.

Silly me.

Doctor Logic said...


I think it's in our genes. Imagine living in a Bronze Age settlement, and trying to lead your fellow villagers to defend their settlement from invaders. It probably helps to tell them mystical stories of an afterlife. So I think there was once a survival advantage to religion.

Today, people still enjoy religion as entertainment. It makes them feel good. They don't question it because it's socially acceptable not to. If belief in God were viewed (as it should be) like belief in Santa, religion would fade quite quickly.