Wisdom to know the difference


As a raving sceptic, I am promoting general Doubt (embracing the failure of knowledge) wherever I can. But Seth raises a fine distinction between the right kind of doubt (curious, inquisitive, seeking truth) and the wrong kind in his post ‘The marketing of conspiracy theories’

  • A key tenet of science is that every useful and productive thesis and theory must be able to be proven wrong. For example, if you say, ‘I have ESP, but it only works if no one is testing or tracking my results,’ then of course it can’t be disproven. If you say, ‘Columbus set off on his journey because a voice came to him in the middle of the night and told him what to do but he never wrote it down nor told anyone,’ then we must either take your word for it or move on. No room for science here.”

He asserts that the inverse of the ‘Scientific Method’ is the ‘Conspiracy Theory’…

  • At the heart of the marketing of a conspiracy theory is that it must be non-falsifiable… Take a look at the many theories about 9/11 or the 12 men in Geneva who run the world or the Kennedy assassination or UFOs and what you’ll see each time is that as soon as anything appears to disprove part of the theory, the theory changes. What is being sold is doubt, not proof. Doubt is something people often want to buy, particularly if it gives them comfort.”

Godin’s observations about the ‘wrong kid of doubt’ are aligned to the “Affect Heuristic” (“mental shortcut that allows people to make decisions and solve problems quickly and efficiently, in which current emotion—fear, pleasure, surprise, etc.—influences decisions”) which Daniel Kahneman examines so effectively.