Thursday, 9 February 2012

Khurram (one of my two awesome and surprisingly-similar-in-a-few-ways brothers-in-law) recently sent me this article:

Conspiracy Über Alles by Tyler Cowen (via Marginal Revolution)

Khurram has a compelling theory that one of the primary markers of poor decision-making (or low intelligence, or however you want to frame it) is the lack of a coherent metaphysics, i.e. understanding that certain things cause other things. Most of the people I talk to in day-to-day life are very much into things like long-term planning, and self-directed inquiry into fairly subtle cause and effect.

It's easy to forget that not everyone's mind works that way. The paper describes two studies:
In Study 1, the more participants believed that Princess Diana faked her own death, the more they believed that she was murdered. In Study 2, the more participants believed that Osama Bin Laden was already dead when U.S. special forces raided his compound in Pakistan, the more they believed he is still alive.
To me, this sounds a lot like "I spend £30/day smoking and drinking but I am broke because of... The Man, man" or "I am hung over because I switched from beer to vodka sometime around 2am". Or, of course, any number of conspiracy theories. (Big Pharma vs homeopathy*, anyone?)

*The homeopathy problem was difficult to take seriously before I moved to the UK: in the US it's sort of a fringe thing you can spend your money on if you want to, but it's (to my knowledge) not toted as a cure for cancer, and it's also not funded by federal healthcare dollars— although that's mostly because we just don't have any. In the UK there is a shiny, well-lit 'homeopathy' section in most NHS pharmacies, which I find fairly asinine, and explains the vehemence of the Dawkins/Hitchens/Meyers arguments against it.