A short essay on conspiracy theorists

by nboydgibbins

This short essay, posted on reddit (link below), highlights quite well the flawed thinking of most conspiracy theorists who jump to the conclusion of foresight and group complicity by the powers they accuse. Even though I don’t know nearly enough to verify this writer’s facts, their arguments are nonetheless clear.

There is a common failure of assessment that arises in many situations involving a combination of simplification and an overbearing assumption of causality. These two heuristics are very common in the misrepresentation of problems and are easy to understand in the context of what brain traits gave the most profound evolutionary advantages in our past. Quick responses often reward an advantage over more accurate understanding. That is, an organism that can assess a problem and produce a solution faster often gets the food or mate or victory. Even if they are sometimes wrong, they are also sometimes successful, and this is commonly achieved through the simplification of problems in their perception. Our brains also have a bias that tries to establish causal relationships. When the cause of an observed event is not understood, some of the brain’s capacity is still occupied as it tries to resolve what it doesn’t yet understand, and therefore cannot rule out as a threat. In the pursuit of this end, brains that were more cavalier, and less critical, about establishing cause were able to move on to solve new problems or execute responses. The causes they established might be wrong, but they weren’t shackled by philosophical reflection on their intrinsic uncertainty; the ones that too crudely established cause in mortal situations died out until later generations had found a balance, etc.

These simple flaws are retained in our biology and now undermine our most impressive feats of abstract reasoning. They can only be overcome through humble self-reflection to understand the mistakes your brain is likely to make; like simplification or the desire to establish cause. It takes discipline to constantly remind yourself that any feeling of certainty is extremely foolish, and that your feeling of understanding may be, and in fact is far more likely to be, based on quite significant simplifications and misrepresentations.