“Smart people are very good at rationalizing things they came to believe for non-smart reasons.” – Michael Shermer
A logical fallacy I see myself and many people making all the time: We form a belief out of thin air and then hunt around for evidence to support that belief. It would of course be much more intelligent not to jump to conclusions and to instead gather evidence objectively, only forming our beliefs when the evidence points overwhelmingly in a specific direction.
Trouble is, we’re too smart for our own good. As Michael Shermer notes above, we have an uncanny knack for finding perfectly rational reasons to believe whatever we want to believe. This is why we have intelligent people believing all sorts of crazy things.1
I caught myself rationalizing the irrational recently. I use Dropbox quite a bit for online storage and know a workaround to sign up for multiple accounts using the same email address. This way I get all the space I want without ever having to upgrade to a paid plan. Took a while for me to realize that this practice contradicted my public condemnation of online piracy. I’m supposed to be the guy who likes paying for products and services I value. Dropbox is certainly one such service, yet there I was hacking away at their registration system so I wouldn’t have to pay.
When this contradiction finally occurred to me, my first instinct was to shift my prefrontal cortex into high gear and present my conscience with a list of perfectly rational reasons why stealing from Dropbox was all fine and dandy. That smartest part of my brain went to work convincing myself that the whole thing couldn’t really be considered piracy, that it was a special case, that I wasn’t really a hypocrite.
Thankfully I have a big nose and could smell my own bullshit, so I didn’t fall for all that rationalization. Not this time, at least. Probably more often than not I fail to catch myself and end up believing dumb stuff.
A couple of books very much worth reading along these lines:
I’ll leave you with this thought: Just because something makes perfect sense in your head doesn’t mean you’re right. More likely it means that you’re too smart for your own good.
P.S. Just reduced the price of my book on Amazon from $7.99 t0 $2.99. Good time to grab it.
- Prime example: In U.S., 46% Hold Creationist View of Human Origins ↩