Is the Illuminati real? Are there UFOs observing and abducting life on Earth? Is the COVID-19 pandemic only some sort of orchestration by some mysterious, powerful individuals? Is the Earth actually flat? The answer to most of these questions is probably no. However, there is no doubt that you have met someone, or maybe even yourself, that has believed in these conspiracies. Despite the absurd amount of evidence that shows the falsity of these propositions, there are still some that claim otherwise. Why is this? Why are some of us simply intrigued by these conspiracies?
Belief and Biased Brain
Our brain is a very biased entity due to our system of beliefs. Once we grasp a belief in some subject, it will be very difficult for us to disprove it. In fact, we do this all the time when googling. Let’s say that you believe that the Earth is flat. To confirm your beliefs you will always google “why is the earth flat” instead of googling “why is the earth not flat”. Despite the hundreds of articles that suggest that the Earth is not flat, it will only take one convincing article that says otherwise to confirm your belief.
There is a term for this characteristic is confirmation bias. You, me, and even the most logical person in the world are all subject to confirmation bias; it is just how our brains are wired. There are few causes of confirmation bias, however it mostly stems from our brain trying to minimize cognitive dissonance. In simpler terms, we want our opinions to be consistent and correct all the time, although this might not be the case. Because of this, we do not like to challenge and disprove our opinions Moreover, facts that support our claims will be subconsciously amplified by our brains. Sadly, confirmation bias is only one in a family of cognitive biases that are hard-wired in our brain; it is just the one that affects us the most when it comes to conspiracy theories.
We Love Patterns and Overexaggerate Them
Why are the digits in the speed of light (299,792,458 m/s) the same as the digits in the latitude of the Great Pyramid of Giza (29.9792458°N)? Do you know that the rearrangement of the phrase “the meaning of life” is the engine of a film”? If something is a triangle, it’s probably Illuminati.
Amazingly, our brain is very skilled in capturing these patterns and hidden messages. The term for this trait that we all have is apophenia. Merriam-Webster defines it as the tendency to perceive a connection or meaningful pattern between unrelated or random things. There is also another form of apophenia called pareidolia, which fills in gaps in our vision. A common phenomenon caused by pareidolia is seeing a face in a random piece of wall. In fact, apophenia might have played a crucial part in our survival. Being able to properly infer the presence of a hiding predator in our peripheral will tremendously help our species in surviving. However, nowadays, apophenia ultimately leads our society to connect unrelated things together and, from it, formulate a conspiracy theory.
But how do we even know if something is unrelated or isn’t extremely rare and unusual? Take the example of the speed of light and the latitude of the Pyramid of Giza. The pyramid of Giza is, undoubtedly, very large and does not require 7 decimal places to accurately pinpoint it. In fact, a difference in the 4th decimal place will only shift our accuracy by a couple of meters. Therefore, it is easy for us to fit numbers that will perfectly fit into the digits present in the speed of light. Most of these bizarre coincidences are, in reality, not special and possibly are not even rare. The Improbability Principle talks about this topic in a more in-depth manner.
Everybody Wants to be a Genius, Though Most Us Aren’t
Albert Einstein discovered relativity; Max Planck became the father of Quantum Physics; Nikola Tesla discovered electricity. These individuals are geniuses that are only born once in a lifetime. They are special and somewhat worshipped by our society as deities that are able to tap into the mind of the universe.
Sadly, you and I are probably nothing like them. We may never discover anything that will amount to their level of greatness. However, we might have fantasized about being them at least once in our life. This is where conspiracy theories come in. Discovering a conspiracy theory is somewhat similar to discovering something in the field of science, only that is unscientific. It allows us to feel like geniuses that can understand beyond everyone’s mental capacity, although that might not be the case. If no one believes in our theories, we brush it off as not being able to reach our ‘high’ mental capacity.
When Einstein said that time was relative, everyone might see him as being crazy and too imaginative. The only difference that discerns Einstein from a mindless conspiracy theorist is that he can prove his claims with concrete evidence. Believers of conspiracy theories, on the other hand, mostly refer to enormously abstract assumptions that back up their propositions. Combine this with our tendency to fall into confirmation bias, conspiracy theories essentially become a strong predator who preys on individuals wanting to feel like a genius. It falsely makes us feel smart and special compared to others.
How Do We Stop Falling to the Pithole of Conspiracy Theories?
The most straightforward and also the most difficult solution is being more scientific. Yes, I know, being scientific is close to impossible. Jordan Peterson once mentioned that even scientists hardly even think like a scientist. However, it is possibly the most foolproof method to prevent biased thinking and falsely connecting unrelated events. The scientific method can do this because it always assumes all initial hypotheses to be false. In fact, this is why the highest certainty of an idea in science is only called a theory; because we can technically always disprove it.
To prove an explanation scientifically, you must first assume it to be false and work your way to disproving all the falsities. It is similar to the googling example I mentioned in the second paragraph. As a result, your explanation will be fully based on facts, evidence, and proof.
Featured Image by Scientific American