Perhaps I should say most of us are not really skeptics.
The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas Taleb is such a well-written book. One of his subjects is the confirmation bias.
Consider a scientific theory. Most people coming to this blog are probably interested in science in some shape or form and know that for a theory to be scientific it has to be falsifiable – that is, we have to be able to create some tests in advance and say “if it fails these tests then the theory is not true”.
For example, the pink fairy down the bottom of my garden. I say it exists. You say, “Why can’t I see it?“
I say, “It’s invisible.” You ask, “How do I know it’s there?“
And so, in the end I have to provide some kind of evidence that can be tested. Otherwise it’s not a scientific theory.
Taleb gives a great example of what we all really do in practice, from research by pyschologists. Pay attention to Nicholas..
Subjects were presented with the three number sequence 2, 4, 6 and asked to guess the rule generating it. Their method of guessing was to produce other three-number sequences to which the experimenter would say “yes” or “no” depending on whether the new sequences were consistent with the rule.
What did the subjects do? They tried to guess the rule.. of course! That’s what they should have done.
And then they tested it by.. producing a sequence consistent with their theory. So almost no one worked out that the real rule was simply, “numbers in ascending order”
Perhaps they decided that the rule was a starting number x1, x2, x3. Or perhaps they decided that the rule was to take starting number then add 2, and add 2 again.
And they generated a sample sequence from their theory and told the experimenter.
But what almost no one did was to suggest a sequence inconsistent with their own mental theory – a test which would allow them to more easily falsify their theory.
The scientific method is to find a way to falsify a theory, but unconsciously almost all of us just try to corroborate our own theories.
Don’t look at the people around you.. ask yourself,
Do I try and test my theories by falsifying them?
Do I try and understand what my “opponents” say?
Do I spend time at blogs where I feel uncomfortable with their “false and unwarranted” conclusions of the world? And try and understand why they think what they do?
Become a real skeptic. Try and prove yourself wrong!