I've noticed a lot recently that in the "rational" world, there remains a lot of irrationality.  Part of that is the expression of views that go along the lines of:

"Well, I disagree with that evidence because my experience is different".

If you don't think there is anything wrong with that, then how about the "I'm a woman and I had no problems getting promoted" brigade?  This is a great example of the problem: the enormous body of firm science demonstrating how women overwhelmingly struggle for equality in the workplace cannot be negated by your (smug) track record.

And yet we persist - and it is so often a part of the framework of how approach the world, even as rationalists.

I read a great book: How We Know What Isn't So: The Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by Thomas Gillovich, which was a serious wake up call.  His fairly mundane examples of how we want to believe nonsense should shock anyone who cares.

And Jen McCreight had an excellent post on this too, a while back:


And yet, still it is so common.

And so to my questions: what is it about experience, the personal story, which is so much more appealing to us, than the cold hard reality that maybe we aren't informed and that science is the best basis for knowing what is true and what isn't?

Do you keep personal experiences which probably ought to be relegated below science (I've got one or two I'll fess up to if others do!)?


To be clear: I am not saying that anecdote and experience have no place.  They definitively do.  However, I am arguing that they need to give a hefty defferential bow to scientific observation/conclusion on a very regular basis.

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Got to agree with Nelson.  The scientific method, which we think is pretty cool, is a recent arrival, and science, which we trust, gets further and further away from our day-to-day experiences, which, as Nelson points out, were the only things our ancestors had to work with.

I understand why we do this but it's a little depressing that it is still so prevalent even among those who self identify as rational...

The scientific method in all of it's modern expression, is indeed modern.  But the essence of it, being observation and correction based on evidence, is also fundamental to human progress.  Irrationality in its many forms has been an enemy of such progress for ever: but the first time a cave dweller noticed that using flint was a better fire lighter than the other stone, we had a scientist.

How tragic that we don't value this method of working out what is true so highly that it is deeply embedded in us all.  And more tragic that we are so early in trying to get comprehensive rationality that we so routinely fail on this still...

To quote Spider Robinson, "It took a couple of hundred million years to develop a thinking ape and you want a smart one in a lousy few hundred thousand?"

While Spider's time scales may be a bit off, his point still stands. The scientific method, realizing we have observational biases to overcome, etc is a fairly new development in our species. It'll take time for it to really sink in.


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