Lt. Tim McMillan (Ret.)
The Science Of Why We Refuse The Truth.
My real passion in life is with psychology and understanding the human mind. This pursuit is the heart of my academic and research background. Law enforcement is the role I serve when I leave to go to work and psychology, and science are the home I bring my mind back to at the end of each shift. Now, the following I am about to tell you has been proven to be scientifically true. I will cite resources just like I would a research article. If you choose to say that this truth does not apply to you, that doesn’t make what I am about to say untrue; it actually confirms the science itself. Human beings engage in something called “motivated reasoning” (Kunda, 1990). What motivated reasoning is based on the fact that humans are inherently hardwired to survive. As such, we do not solely apply the reaction of “fight or flight” to predators. We also respond in the same manner of flight or flight with ideas. When confronted with something that challenges our preexisting opinions, or worldviews we will respond as if it is a physical threat (Lord, Ross, Lepper, 1979). It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is, homosexuality, racism, political views, crime, terrorism, poverty, the economy, or ecology. THE FIGHT: Even when we think we are reasoning a different belief as not being valid, we are often just rationalizing our preexisting opinions (Haidt, 2000). To justify our preexisting beliefs, we seek out confirmation bias. Confirmation bias is when we do not research it a fair manner that can lead to actual truth. In essence, you are acting in the capacity as a lawyer to defend your current opinion against having to form a new one. THE FLIGHT: Now, if one encounters something that conflicts with their pre-existing beliefs and they cannot rationalize it away with confirmation bias, that is where the “flight” part of the equation comes in. Instead, of logically deducing that the lack of evidence to support your preexisting belief means that you may be wrong, you will refuse to believe that it exists at all. This is the cornerstone of all conspiracy theories. The evidence doesn’t exist because some secret cabal suppresses it from you. Here is a good example of this in practical application. The following is an excerpt from a real email from a person who is the president of a “patriot” group. I met this person after she confronted me while I was at work and accused the police of being a part of a secret plan by President Obama to institute martial law so as to take away citizens civil rights. “PLEASE, do your research! Contact your Representatives and Senators to ask them to stand against this threat against GA citizens. A prime example was what occurred to a woman in Lawrenceville just recently. She proudly displayed the U.S. flag on a pole attached to her mailbox. A muslim woman with full burka came out of woods located near the home, pulled the pole out, and started attacking her & her daughter. A neighbor had to join in to control the muslim woman for law enforcement to arrive. YET... when I searched the Gwinnett County Sheriff logs, they don't seem to list the muslim woman as showing an arrest. Not clear much was done with her. Very suspicious.” Notice she starts her message with “Please do your research.” She then shares what undoubtedly is an urban legend fueled by bigotry. She claims she did investigate the incident, and when she finds no evidence to support the story as being real she determines this does not support that the event didn’t occur. Rather, it is evidence to support her preexisting beliefs in a government conspiracy. I know this is a long post and I’ve tried to condense a complex psychological topic as much as possible. However, understanding this specific human mental attribute is VITAL to ensuring that we as people can ever truly achieve the truth of peace as people. We MUST understand our natural predisposition to be biased no matter what our current beliefs are. Even if you think you are the most open-minded person, either you have acknowledged motivated reasoning and work to ensure you are always open-minded, or you indeed are susceptible to this significant influence on our behavior and opinions. As people, if we ever want to achieve true happiness we must free our minds from the prisons it imposes upon itself. This is the highest stage of enlightenment because it involves one obtaining the ability to engage in true free will beyond the confines of our inborn human mind. We must free ourselves from what Francis Bacon called “idols of the mind” and learn to act in concert with the laws of universal truth.