Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why We Should All Think Like Scientists

On Tuesday mornings I get to talk on WKYB, Danville's country radio station. This was our topic today.

Jonathan Haidt, a leader in positive psychology, emphasizes that we human beings are not selfish individuals, but a groupish social species. It is overwhelmingly a good thing that we are attached to our groups.  We try to be loyal to the group, and believe what it believes.

The bad thing that can happen from our groupishness, though, is that we tend to seek evidence that supports what the group already believes, and reject evidence which contradicts this belief.  We have a strong "confirmation bias." This bias is not simply a feature of some people's individual psychology, but of everyone's natural (and mostly admirable) tendency to be loyal to our group. Haidt, in The Righteous Mind, writes "For non-scientists, there is no such thing as a study you must believe."

Science, by contrast, is the honest search for truth.  It is a hard discipline of reason and of moral candor.  All of us act like scientists in this regard sometimes.  And professional scientists do not always live up the high standards of science, even in their scientific work.

The great virtue of thinking like a scientist, a virtue we can all follow, is the ability to steel ourselves to follow the evidence wherever it leads, even if that means rejecting a cherished belief of our group. This is our best defense, as individuals, as groups, and as society as a whole, against false beliefs and the hopeless conflicts they engender.

Truth is in order to goodness, and thus to happiness.

No comments: