ClassroomAt one time I had thought that education — especially pointing out erroneous and fallacious thinking — would help people understand the world better and dispense with ignorance. Over time, though, I haven’t seen that things have improved much. Most people are still as mired in irrationality and fallacy as they ever were, and no amount of fact-teaching seems to make any difference. For instance, the Birther delusion lives on, in spite of it being based on lies and mistaken suppositions. Barack Obama was born in Hawai’i to an American mother, but the Birthers refuse to accept that, even though it’s been factually demonstrated many times over; see this (cached) and this (cached), just for starters. I’d wondered if, perhaps, there are just a lot of mentally-ill people out there, all experiencing the same delusion. But depressingly, the truth about human beings is much worse even than that; it turns out we are hard-wired to reject even irrefutable, demonstrable facts that we find emotionally unsatisfying. The New York Times Idea of the Day blog reports on this sobering revelation (WebCite cached article):

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in 1789. But you might want to rethink that axiom, recent University of Michigan research suggests. It “found that when misinformed people, particularly political partisans, were exposed to corrected facts in news stories, they rarely changed their minds,” writes Joe Keohane in the Boston Globe [cached].

He explains the cognitive studies reviving longstanding concerns about voter ignorance:

In reality, we often base our opinions on our beliefs, which can have an uneasy relationship with facts. And rather than facts driving beliefs, our beliefs can dictate the facts we choose to accept. They can cause us to twist facts so they fit better with our preconceived notions. Worst of all, they can lead us to uncritically accept bad information just because it reinforces our beliefs. This reinforcement makes us more confident we’re right, and even less likely to listen to any new information. And then we vote.

Humanity, I fear, is lost. Those of us willing to think critically — and to try to encourage others to think critically — are apparently fighting a rearguard action against an enemy (i.e. emotional thinking) which neuroscience suggests we cannot defeat.

No wonder hyperreligiosity rages on, even in this era of science and technology. No wonder people are embracing New Age gibberish and nonsense like never before. No wonder political partisans steadfastly refuse to acknowledge even the slightest flaw in their own ideology or the slightest virtue in their foes’. No wonder critical thinkers are hated, vilified, and viewed as a threat by many folks.

The classroom of humanity is empty, and it will never be filled. No one cares about “truth” or “veracity” any more; they only care about how they “feel.” And that’s just the way they are.

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