Monday, 5 September 2016


or, why some people are really stupid.

Cognitive dissonance is one of those terms that sound really technical but actually explains something very simple. We all experience cognitive dissonance sometimes, it happens when we feel conflicting urges or beliefs that make us feel uncomfortable. Wikipedia uses the "doughnut scenario" in order to describe the process of dissonance reduction where we try to assimilate the two contradictory desires.

Imagine - you are on a diet because you want to lose weight but someone gives you a doughnut. You still want to keep to your diet but you also really want to eat the doughnut. You are now experiencing cognitive dissonance, that uncomfortable feeling of wanting to do two contradictory things at the same time.

People of an extremist persuasion, religious, political or whatever, will find themselves in a similar situation when someone shows them evidence that their beliefs are based on poor or false data.

When you are in this situation, you are forced to modify your belief or behaviour in order to restore a balance. It's in this process that psychologists have a field day because although the obvious thing to do is accept the evidence and modify your belief or, in the case of the doughnut, just accept that you can't have your doughnut and eat it, (not without abandoning your diet anyway), and accept one or the other, people rarely do this. Many will go to extreme lengths to avoid doing so by adapting some genuinely bizarre strategies to eliminate the state of tension they find themselves in.

While researching this piece, I came across a website called which not only is a good read if you want a simple explanation about cognitive dissonance, it also uses as an example the case of a group of "end of the world" religionists which is going to neatly segue into the article which follows this.

"Cognitive dissonance was first investigated by Leon Festinger, arising out of a participant observation study of a cult which believed that the earth was going to be destroyed by a flood, and what happened to its members — particularly the really committed ones who had given up their homes and jobs to work for the cult — when the flood did not happen.
While fringe members were more inclined to recognize that they had made fools of themselves and to "put it down to experience", committed members were more likely to re-interpret the evidence to show that they were right all along (the earth was not destroyed because of the faithfulness of the cult members)." (

In other words, while trying to reduce the feeling of psychological tension or distress, people will go extraordinary lengths to justify not changing their belief.

The religious nut as described above is just one example of someone turning the evidence on it's head in order not to have to change their world view. We have all met the cigarette smoker who refuses to give up because he might get run over by a bus. While any normal person would struggle to find anything to connect the two situations, the smoker who isn't willing or able to give up their addiction will argue that stopping smoking increases their chances of being involved in a road traffic accident, to justify continuing with their dangerous habit. 

Recently, most US Republican Senators voted to deny that human activity contributes to climate change????

Personally, I'm with professor Brian Cox on this one. "Human stupidity is the greatest threat to mankind."


World ends - again

A story in the Sun, copied from the daily Star (now there are two publication worthy of taking notice of) are bleating on about a prediction they claim has been made by a Christian fundamentalist website called Unsealed. In their story they claim that this website has predicted the end of the world to coincide with a total Solar eclipse due to take place over the United Stated next August.

The story in the Star describes the people making the predictions as "hardcore Christians" but when it is copied in the Sun, they are described as "conspiracy theorists". It's possible that they are confusing Unsealed with Unsealed Alien Files which is a flying saucer nut website.

Anyone born later than the 15th century will know that Solar eclipses occur as the Moon passes in front of the Sun as it orbits the Earth. Because of a curious coincidence, the Moon appears to be the same size as the Sun in the sky, so when their positions coincide, you get an eclipse. The orbit of the Moon around the Earth is not directly in line with the Earth and Sun so you don't get one every month, you can however predict them with great accuracy and we have known this one was coming for several hundred years. 

I have had a good look at this website and I can't find any reference to the eclipse. They do go on a lot about "The End of days" type rubbish but no more than any other website of their ilk so I don't know where the Star got it's story. 

They do have an article about a suggested end of the world event but unusually for a Christian fundamentalist website they actually claim that no-one can know when the world will end. There is no reference in this article about the eclipse that I can see. In the comments section, "Bruce" has suggested there may be a connection with the August 2017 eclipse so really the Star and Sun headline should read:-

Apocalypse 'coming in 2017' after total solar eclipse hits US and UK says Bruce.

A TOTAL solar eclipse will plunge Britain and America into darkness - and bring on the end of the world next year.
By the way, America won't be plunged into darkness, only a small strip of land the shadow passes over. It's so small that if you were standing on the Moon, you would need binoculars to see it. The UK will be plunged into darkness however as the Sun will set before the eclipse is over.

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