Around these parts, we are very keen to point out cognitive foibles.

Temporarily stuck in human form as we are, our instruments for perceiving the universe around us are inherently flawed, susceptible to all manner of errors.

It is a design error in the wetware.

In the ongoing battle to keep these flaws from impacting our investing process, we keep learning of new problems — with both our hardware and software. We can work to keep the firmware updated, but the errors that keep cropping up are even worse than we previously imagined:

New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.

Facts, apparently, don’t matter much . . .



In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter
Interview with Dana Milbank, Brendan Nyhan and Robert Wood Johnson
NPR, July 13, 2010

Category: Politics, Psychology

Please use the comments to demonstrate your own ignorance, unfamiliarity with empirical data and lack of respect for scientific knowledge. Be sure to create straw men and argue against things I have neither said nor implied. If you could repeat previously discredited memes or steer the conversation into irrelevant, off topic discussions, it would be appreciated. Lastly, kindly forgo all civility in your discourse . . . you are, after all, anonymous.

70 Responses to “Your Brain is Broken”

  1. MaxMax says:

    Run, Sarah! Run!

  2. foosion says:

    Facts have a well-known liberal bias.

    There have been funds set up by behavioral economists in an attempt to profit from various cognitive foibles. AFAIK, none did very well.

  3. Tulm says:

    Hmmm. sounds like Pelosi currently suffers from this.

  4. Orson Wang says:

    If you don’t like reading an interview transcript, here’s a Boston Globe version on “backfire” quoting the same researcher, Brendan Nyhan of the University of Michigan:

  5. Transor Z says:

    Arguably this finding points to the complexity of the mind and its motivations as much as it points out an important limitation. Duh, people react on an emotional level. This is why messaging is so important.

  6. DeDude says:

    No doubt that it is impossible to be completely objective and open minded – but we can at least try.

  7. Paul Jones says:

    Funny that in order for my brain to be “broken”, TPTB have to pump trillions into the market every year.

    I wonder if Solzhenitsyn was ever told his brain was broken?

  8. DL says:

    “…a key principle of a strong democracy [is] that a well-informed electorate is best”.

    . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

    Best for whom?

    For each level of “enlightenment” of the electorate, there will be a different set of winners and losers.

    One of the questions that arises is that of whether the political left benefits more from ignorance (on the part of voters), or the political right.

    I lean more towards the view that the political left benefits more, but there are reasonable arguments to be made on both sides of the question.

  9. Lyle says:

    Orwell had it right (I think it was him) Facts are the enemy of truth. Or put another way if the facts do not conform to the theory they (the facts) must be discarded. The recent financial crisis is a perfect example of this.
    Behavioral Economics recognized that we are not Homo Economicus the perfect calculating machine on all things economic, but that various parts of us are still animals at heart. Of course the economic profession having physics envy (wannabe physicists) believe in that assumption, since Sneldon (Foundation Trilogy Asimov) has not yet arrived to invent psychohistory. (a theory derived somehow from statistical mechanics applied to humans)

  10. xynz says:

    Proving, once again, than it’s essential for schools to teach children how to think critically and recognize misinformation. The best way to keep misinformation from being integrated into their belief system, is to get people into the habit of identifying and rejecting it.

  11. bergsten says:

    Sometimes? Sometimes?

    Ritholtz, you’re becoming an optimist. I have never, ever seen anyone change their minds over anything of substance, let alone beliefs for any reason (assuming they weren’t pretending to gain advantage or avoid conflict).

    Have you?

    Sorry to interrupt. Back to the partisan comments…

  12. Jim Greeen says:

    Psychologist call this phenomenon “Confirmation Bias”

  13. Jack says:

    Why is this thesis limited to politics? Evolution anyone? How about Roswell? How about that “rocket” that took off the other day?

    On a lighter note, the NYT says that Bud Selig still thinks Abner Doubleday invented baseball. Cynics are born from listening to people who spout “facts” that cannot, ever, ever be true.

  14. JimRino says:

    So this explains the Constant Attack on Education by the “Republicans”.
    Smart voters vote Democrat.

  15. NormanB says:

    In politics this is much more of a liberal Democratic bias. Remember the War on Poverty started by Johnson in 1966. It ran for 30 years and it ran the black community into the ground (illegimate births from 25% to 75%, jailed young men from 10% to 33%, declining educational achievements, etc) but the WoP kept getting money until the GOP stepped in.

    On a more recent note we have the Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman who championed the simuless program and who told us how great it was going to be. Well it hasn’t, so what does the great economist tell us now: We need more of it.

    And so it goes with liberal Democrats: When their philosphies are put into practice and they produce opposite results the Dems say we gotta do more of it, ie, we can’t be wrong. Sorry, you are usually wrong.

  16. b_thunder says:

    Isn’t the “wealth effect” so much desired by Bernanke is one of the “cognitive foibles”?????

    Higher stock prices while the trade-weighted dollar is down and gold is up by almost as much – the Fed desperately wants you to think you are wealthier, and desperately hopes that when presented with the facts (trade-weighted dollar, gold) you will stubbornly believe in your newly minted/printed/gifted by the Fed “wealth.”

  17. grimreaper says:

    The Dunning Kruger Effect is a most interesting, and at least contextually partially illuminating, concept. Wiki for wider explanation, but the gist of it is this: the less intelligent/informed one is, the more certain one is of their conclusions. Put another way, the dumbest of us are the most confident, while the smartest of us are plagued with the most doubt and uncertainty. I would add that in one of their experiments, 94% of the college professors involved rated their performance “above average” relative to their peers, a statistic impossibility. For this research they were awarded an “Ig Nobel Prise,” (I’d never heard of it, either) described thusly: The Ig Nobel Prizes are an American parody of the Nobel Prizes and are given each year in early October for ten achievements that “first make people laugh, and then make them think.” Organized by the scientific humor magazine Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), they are presented by a group that includes Nobel Laureates at a ceremony at Harvard University’s Sanders Theater.

    In memorable episode of TAXI, after Jim had just postulated something absurd in his burnt-out hippie way, Louie responded, “Jim, you’re too dumb to know how stupid you are.”

    Aren’t we all? If we are not aware of cognitive dissonance and confirmation bias on a daily basis, what good are we?

    (disclosure: I’m an idiot.)


    BR: heh heh.

    We’ve mentioned Dunning Kruger before here and here

  18. jessica says:

    There are limits as to how far one can develop information-centered societies when the norm for public information is non-truth. Just as industrial society began to drown in industrial pollution, information society is drowning in information pollution.

    Under the current conditions, I would suggest that the refusal to be moved by facts is actually an adaptive response to being confronted by large amounts of untruth. In societies so filled with the truthiness of advertising and propaganda, there are two obvious strategies. The high-cost one is to develop the intellectual skills to sift through and then spend a lot of time gathering and filtering even more information than what is firehosed at us constantly. The low-cost one is simply to assume that it is all bullshit.

  19. Joe Friday says:


    “Remember the War on Poverty started by Johnson in 1966. It ran for 30 years and it ran the black community into the ground…”

    Actually, because of the ‘War on Poverty’, the African American poverty rate was about cut in HALF.


    “illegimate births from 25% to 75%”

    Out of wedlock births by Whites are a MUCH larger problem for our country.


    “jailed young men from 10% to 33%”

    Which has WHAT to do with the ‘War on Poverty’ ?

    According to the Justice Dept, the majority of those committing crimes are White, the majority committing violent crimes are White, and the majority of those abusing illegal drugs are White folks living in the suburbs.

    Yet the majority of those in prison are non-White.

    Go figure.


    “On a more recent note we have the Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman who championed the simuless program and who told us how great it was going to be. Well it hasn’t…”

    The stimulus was a SPECTACULAR success.

    * Before the stimulus bill was enacted last year, the GDP in the 4TH QTR of ’08 was -6.8%.

    * After the stimulus bill was enacted, 1ST QTR ’09: -4.9% > 2ND QTR ’09: -0.7% > 3RD QTR ‘09: +1.6% > 4TH QTR ’09: +5.0%.


    * The almost 750,000 a month job losses during the previous administration prior to the stimulus was replaced by an average of almost 200,000 a month job gains.


    The stimulus worked like a charm. It was just too small given the economic downturn was far worse than initially imagined.


    “so what does the great economist tell us now: We need more of it.”

    He’s correct.


    And so it goes with liberal Democrats: When their philosphies are put into practice and they produce opposite results…”

    Only in the warped minds of the American RightWing.

  20. Carse says:

    Perceptions are everything reality be damned! Not naming names on this one.

  21. MayorQuimby says:

    I believe the saying goes, “It takes a man to admit his mistakes.”

    America today is absolutely filled with geniuses with complete and infallible solutions to any and all of the world’s problems. Ask ANY American what they think of ANYTHING and you will almost certainly get an overconfident reply.

    I tend to gravitate towards the people that would say, “I really just don’t know”. They are few and far between.


    BR: Funny, we addressed that expression over the Summer: 6 Billion Errors Per Day, Minimum

  22. philipat says:

    Glen Beck says that NPR should be de-funded and closed because the evil pelendrome is funding it to help create a “New World Order”. Yawn,

    Not that a bit of awareness of the 96% of the population of the world, it’s views, sports etc., would do the US any harm.

  23. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    Facts might not matter, but reality does. Especially when it hits you in the face like a 2 x 4. Twice. Apparently, that’s at least how many whacks it has taken, so far, for the American middle class to begin waking up to the fact, via the undeniable reality, that they have been buggered, fleeced, and sold down the river by the corporate class they gave our government to. Then again, maybe I don’t have my facts straight. Nonetheless, that’s what I believe.

    Religion is the ultimate expression of malfunctioning wetware. Try showing this to a devout Christian or Jew, and having them explain their belief system:

    Chart Porn as fine art.

  24. diogeron says:

    Actually, the quote du jour from Dave Silverman says the same thing from a different angle…

    Speaking of “angles”, apologies to Sharron (sic) Angle for not seeking “second amendment remedies” for this apparently universal human tendency to ignore facts when they don’t support one’s preconceived conclusions.

  25. victor says:

    Nicholas Wade explains in his recent book “Before the Dawn” that modern home sapiens only evolved after he acquired LANGUAGE, some 50,000 years ago whereas our biological species appeared some 150,000-200,000 years ago. My point is we’re VERY young as a species and the three main traits of modern man were and still are: Warfare, Religion and Trade. All other activities have been shown to be subsets of these three. That our brain is “broken” should come of no surprise. Our ancestors are out of Africa. A group of only 150 or so people crossed from today’s Eritrea/Djibouti/Somalia/Ethiopia into today’s’ Yemen and within a relatively short span of time populated the rest of world; New Zealand was one of the last, homo sapiens arrived there only 1,000 years ago. An equally small group colonized the rest of Africa starting from the same small area in East Africa. The brains of these colonists evolved via: mutations, natural selection and drift (chance). My point is that generation after generation they must have been lead by alpha males/females such as later, an Abraham or Moses mythical figures as they may have been. Once a decision was made to “move on” in search of food or better climates or more likely to escape other groups bent on killing the males and stealing their women, they stayed with that decision, regardless of the other “facts”. Many of these decisions must have been somehow co-opted into the various religions all groups had. That’s at least what behavioural anthropologists tell us and geneticists confirm in many cases. Thus, our seeming reluctance to “see” the facts and proclivity to stay the course regardless of these facts. Fishermen in the ocean say”: “When on fish, stay on fish”, deal with the weather and other facts, just “stay on fish”.

  26. wunsacon says:


    I don’t know for sure what Kruggles means by “stimulus”, because I don’t read his columns but rarely. But, we did not start “jobs programs” * like Hoover did (and like FDR expanded on greatly). (* Big obvious exception/counter-argument: Many programs like the “war on drugs”, public education, etc. are already “jobs programs”. When we continue deficit spending to support that, it’s implicitly a “jobs program”.) Bailing out banks/bondholders was not stimulus.

    Contrast financial bailouts with implementing a Pickens Plan, which would serve multiple purposes:
    - hire unemployed construction-industry folk
    - reduce our meaningful dependence on other countries for our daily energy
    - improve our current account deficit
    - improve the environment

  27. GuinnessFan says:

    This topic is explored in a book that I believe I first saw referenced in TBP: True Enough – Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society by Farhad Manjoo. Sort of lead me to the conclusion that there’s little hope that sanity or reason will ever prevail. Big Brother is truly in control.

  28. changja says:

    If you asked the economist during the height of the depression scare, right after the crash of Bear, Lehman, AIG, etc if they’ll be willing to accept:

    Growing (albeit slowly) employment
    Positive GDP
    Stock market up 80%
    etc etc

    Most everyone would’ve accepted it. Its easy to say now how things can be different but the current situation is a lot better than the worst case scenarios floated around. Say what you want about the stimulus plan, TARP, Bernarke, etc but the US is farther from the edge of the cliff than it was back then.

    Whether we could’ve done better (i.e. financial reform, bank breakups, <9% unemployment, etc) is a different story.

  29. louis says:

    “I have a gnat stuck to my lip” – Palin

  30. I find this surprising:

    This post is not about politics, its about cognitive processes. And it seems that the cognitive process errors makes it difficult for people to grasp this . . .


  31. BTW this QOTD is true from my perspective:

    “I have heard many times that atheists know more about religion than religious people. Atheism is an effect of that knowledge, not a lack of knowledge. I gave a Bible to my daughter. That’s how you make atheists.” -Dave Silverman, president of American Atheists, responding to a suvrvey showing that atheists and agnostics know more about religion than believers.

    It doesn’t mean they are right. It just means it is true. When you are constantly defending yourself against those who would attempt to save you, you need to be on your game. As a Christian, I have found atheists have ‘heard all the arguments’ and thus know how to block and defend quite well. After all, they are fighting for their lives. You run better scared than you do mad as the saying goes

    It is similar to a kid who is a common thief who has been through the justice system a few times. He tends to know the law and his ‘rights’ much better than the police officer who is busting him. And once Christians get through those big doors they tend to grab a comfortable mental seat and put up their feet

    I have probably learned more about the gospel from witnessing to unbelievers than I have sitting in the pew. As I said before though, it doesn’t mean they are right. They always run smack into the brick walls and then refuse to answer…..but they know all the arguments. :)

  32. Expat says:

    @The Common Man: Have you read The God Delusion by Dawkins?

    Why are atheists fighting for their lives? What are these brick walls you refer to? Why don’t “arguments” have any value to you?

    Essentially, you are saying that as a believer you are right, whatever the facts. For you, belief trumps fact. Or at least, it covers everything that is not proven (or specifically those things you don’t believe are proven).

    You are a Christian, therefore Jesus, the Bible, angels, etc. If you were a Muslim, you would believe in Allah, Mohammed, the Koran, etc. And so on for every religion on the planet including the more or less dead ones. And every single one of the believers is “right”, aren’t they. Otherwise, they are all wrong, because by your logic all it takes to be right is belief. No good saying they believe in the wrong thing, because you have as much proof of your religion as they do.

    You don’t understand atheism at all because you are cognitively biased towards your religious belief. Since it makes no sense to you, you need to create constructs and emotions on behalf of atheists. So we atheists are “scared” or “running for our lives” or desperately struggling to find new arguments because we are terrified of being wrong about belief. However, since you are not an atheist, you are not really in a position to understand atheism and are basically “making shit up” to justify your own insecurities about your faith.

    Belief in God is, as far as I am concerned, childish, wasteful, and dangerous. I see no need to respect someone’s belief in Christ any more than I need to respect someone’s belief in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or little fairies at the bottom of the garden. It’s all unproven hogwash, a collective madness which has gained credibility merely through propagation. Try reading both testaments and reconciling the “word of God” with your life and life around you. You might discover that what you consider “christian” is more appropriate to life in the DRC or Iraq.

    There are no brick walls in my mind, only brick staircases which take me higher and higher with no boundaries beyond my own ability to learn.

  33. LoriInNC says:

    Ok, so let me get this straight. If one perceives something different at the checkout counter and their monthly budgets that differs from what the BLS, Invictus, and Barry tells you is the absolute truth, then you’re dumb. Is that the message you’re conveying?

    If so, then perhaps I too should strive to take a vacation to the Hamptons to clear my head and mingle with all the minds that matter because I apparently need a little more edumacation on the real world.

  34. Lori

    That’s exactly wrong. What I have been writing for a decade now is that your ability to objectively perceive reality, then to make rational decisions based on that reality is greatly debilitated by the way you, as a human being, have your brain wired. This is especially true when it comes to investing decisions.

    I do not pretend to have the absolute truth. The difference between you and I one of us has spent decades trying to understand the limits of human decisionmaking, and the other has not . . .

  35. Liquidity Trader says:

    One of you is a forward thinking enlightened person who uses the website to share his knowledge and wisdom, and the other is a web troll . . .

  36. bjorn says:

    “We’re all Bozos on this bus” (Firesign Theater)

  37. randy says:

    If you want to change someone’s mind then the important factor is not quality of your facts, but the way in which the facts are presented. There are limits, though. The more deeply invested the person is in their personal truth, the more difficult it is to get them to change.

    Bob believes A=3.
    Sally walks up and confidently yells A=5!
    Bob feels the emotional need to defend A=3. This is the moment that confirmation bias digs in to Bob’s brain.

    Fred believes A=3.
    Ginger tells Fred that she was told that A=5, but that she is having trouble understanding how that could be true.
    Fred feels the emotional need to attempt to explain the heretical view that A=5. Fred will look at the new facts in a more open way and might reconsider his position.

    Jim believes A=3.
    Believing that A=3 causes Jim to take certain actions.
    Those actions cause Jim pain (because A=5, and acting on A=3 just naturally causes problems.)
    Jim discusses his pain with Sally.
    Sally says that she doesn’t know anything about A, but that the pain Jim is experiencing seems to indicate that A is not 3.
    Jim is very likely to reexamine his belief that A=3.

    Larry is a student who has been exposed to the concept of A for the first time.
    Larry hears the story of Jim’s pain, caused by his belief that A=3.
    Larry is likely to believe something other than A=3.

    This is how the human species learns over time. It’s a messy process. It’s not fast. The slow speed wasn’t particularly a problem until the future arrived. A generation is a long time to wait, now.

    When Fred, Jim, and a dozen others sit around and talk about the pain they have experienced because of their belief that A=3, that’s called AA. If you want to convince people that A=5 then you need to find the right 12-step group.

  38. @Expat,

    Dawkins IS delusional

    I was an unbeliever for the first 18 years of my life. I’ve seen both sides and have almost died for both sides. I’ll take the second gladly

    I’m not going to debate Christianity on Barry’s board with you. It is not my place unless he wants to open the topic and that will create 300 postings in an hour. I have been a Christian for decades and met (life saved by) angels before I ever met Christ. So I have studied ALL the major religions knowing that there was something way beyond this physical reality that you call home. Not because I chose it but because it chose me. When you are thrown into the deep end of a pool you learn to swim…or die!

    I pray you find it buddy because you can’t and won’t run forever. That is a FACT!

    The arguments don’t have validity because I have taken them to their logical, desperate conclusions and back again. They don’t measure up to scrutiny. My faith of the things unseen is based on a foundation of logic, truth and proof

    That’s all I’ll say without Barry’s permission

    We’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled blog post

  39. torrie-amos says:

    randy, lol, having coached folks for 15 years that’s about it

  40. “New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the facts — and often become even more attached to their beliefs. “

    Barry, this describes you. Despite all the facts, you still do not accept the meanings of monetary sovereignty.

    So, you do not accept the fact that because the U.S. federal government has the unlimited ability to create money, federal taxes and federal borrowing do not pay for federal spending. You erroneously believe taxpayers pay for federal spending, and misleadingly talk about “taxpayers’ money” being spent.

    You believe federal deficit spending should be limited, though the facts show lack of deficit spending leads to recessions and depressions, which are cured by — yes, deficit spending.

    You are concerned that deficit spending will cause inflation, though the facts show there has been no relationship between deficit spending and inflation since we went off the gold standard in 1971.

    You do not understand that federal borrowing easily could end tomorrow, and if that were to happen, there would be no more worrisome federal “debt.”

    Because you do not understand that the U.S. government cannot go bankrupt, you believe Social Security and Medicare could go bankrupt, without an increase in taxes or a decrease in benefits, despite the fact that they both are federal agencies and no U.S. federal agency can go bankrupt.

    Keep trying, Barry. I have faith that eventually you ‘ll get it.

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

  41. Lariat1 says:

    @Randy: agreed, messy and sometimes a very long process, you are spot on.

  42. DeDude says:

    Jessica @ 7:16 PM

    I agree with the concept that many people get overwhelmed and assume all is BS. But there is also a middle ground chosen by a lot. They find a filter they like (Fox, HuffPost, etc.) and presume that filter is good and all else is BS.

    Joe Friday @ 7:18 PM

    Great job debunking Norman’s BS with facts. Now lets see if this converts him to a fact-based opinion or just gets him hunkered further down into his black hole of right wing dillusions. I know.

  43. Well, RodgerMitchell, I have not accepted the meanings of monetary sovereignty as you defined them in your book. And because I disagree with your theories — similar to Mosler’s ,there can be no deficit economics — that somehow makes me wrong.

    Your form of argument not only makes me question your approach, it makes me that much less likely to pay attention to your thesis.

  44. Transor Z says:

    @Randy at 9:06 am:

    Exactly! Isn’t there a strand of human wisdom that says, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it”?

  45. Slade says:

    Hmmm, funny that a brief blog that seems to suggest that we should question our beliefs in, oh say, investment decisions should bring out so much political and religious angst in the comments.

    Perhaps those with the angst need consider more than just their investment thinking?

  46. diogeron says:

    @Common man

    “Dawkins is delusional”….What a very strange claim to make. All Dawkins does is to refuse to accept a conclusion about an extraordinary claim (there is a Supreme Being who created the universe…etc.) without the accompanying extraordinary evidence to support that claim. As a scientist, Dawkins is simply adhering to the belief that the scientific method is the best available method for separating what is likely true from what is likely not true. I don’t know about you, but I prefer that approach to one based on, say, reading the entrails of an ox or the contents of a 2000 year old book (books?) of dubious authorship. One may disagree with Dawkins or any other atheist (or a-deist, which I prefer) but that hardly makes someone “delusional.” If properly used, the term “delusional” should be applied only to people who accept extraordinary claims without any evidence.

  47. KentWillard says:

    I rarely convince someone if I tell them they are wrong. I don’t even think you change their mind if you give them your conclusion. You have to give them all the information up to the conclusion, and let them make it on their own. When we ‘discover’ the ‘truth’, it is much more convincing. And avoid ideological labels.

  48. redline21 says:

    This extract is relevant to the topic and does not mentioned Ds or Rs. Good day.

    (in summary, “hope” that something may exist outweighs the present reality that seriously questions whether that future scenario (hope) is realistic.. Hope is a very strong part of human nature, and it isn’t totally irrational that some place so much emphasis on hope that they ignore the present truths that demonstrate that that future scenario (hope) is unlikely to become reality. That’s why prudent pessimism is good. This is akin to the ivy league financiers whose egos propelled them to believe they could eliminate most financial risk, but the reality proved that their faith or ” hope” in their human intellect and capabilities was illusory).

    Keene believes that “the true-believer syndrome is the greatest thing phony mediums have going for them” because “no amount of logic can shatter a faith consciously based on a lie.” That those suffering from true-believer syndrome are consciously lying to themselves hardly seems likely, however. Perhaps from the viewpoint of a fraud and hoaxer, the mark who is told the truth but who continues to have faith in you must seem to believe what he knows is a lie. Yet, this type of self-deception need not involve lying to oneself. To lie to oneself would require admission that one believes what one knows is false. This does not seem logically possible. One can’t believe or disbelieve what one knows. (Belief is distinct from belief in, which is a matter of trust rather than belief.) Belief and disbelief entail the possibility of error; knowledge implies that error is beyond reasonable probability. I may have overwhelming evidence that a “psychic” is a phony, yet still believe that paranormal events occur. I may be deceiving myself in such a case, but I don’t think it is correct to say I am lying to myself.

    It is possible that those suffering from true-believer syndrome simply do not believe that the weight of the evidence before them revealing fraud is sufficient to overpower the weight of all those many cases of supportive evidence from the past. The fact that the supportive evidence was largely supplied by the same person exposed as a fraud is suppressed. There is always the hope that no matter how many frauds are exposed, at least one of the experiences might have been genuine. No one can prove that all psychic “miracles” have been frauds; therefore, the true believer may well reason that he or she is justified in keeping hope alive. Such thinking is not completely illogical, though it may seem pathological to the one admitting the fraud.

  49. Petey Wheatstraw says:


    From the quote in your post:

    “The finding raises questions about a key principle of a strong democracy: that a well-informed electorate is best.”

    It is about politics.

  50. Petey Wheatstraw says:

    The religion part of this thread was started by me (I think), as a means of showing how folks will hold onto their delusions despite obvious flaws in their source material — not to start an argument of the relative merits of religion, or lack thereof.

    Did anyone check the chart I linked to? Is that one of the greatest charts ever, or what? I’m going to have the section shown at the link blown up and printed on canvas w/a gallery edge (33″ x 44″ poster version available for free at the link).

  51. louis says:

    You cannot change the mind of an Ostrich when it’s head is in the ground.

  52. Expat says:

    I should have given Common Man a pass, since this blog is not the place for such discussions except insofar as religion is a perfect example of man’s ability to delude himself. Dawkins argues for a genetic, behavioural bias for belief; extending his ideas it is easy to see how confirmational bias can work as well. There is obviously a genetic advantage to a certain amount of stubborness (I will keep trying to catch this fish despite missing on the first two attempts, etc.).

    While I understand religion and believers’ refusal to cede to logic or facts, I have more trouble accepting it in politics or economics. Listening to friends and family tell me “George Bush is the greatest president ever and has never made mistake” or “My country right or wrong” without ever admitting anything wrong (except when done by liberals) made me frightened and sad. I don’t really care if you believe some Palestinian hippy was the Son of God or that his mother was badly translated into a virgin as long as you keep to yourself. But start to treat politics and economics as unimpeachable dogma and I think you should be locked up or shot.

    While some believe God wrote the Bible, no one believes the Republican, Tea Party, or Communist program was decided on high, least not the commies, of course. But it is just as “evil” and un-American to question these beliefs as it is to question war, torture, or Wall Street.

    The failure to accept this simply means we are all right as long as we believe. So, next time you want to criticize communists, fascists, Tea Baggers, Al Qaeda, Nazis, or FSM worshippers, ask yourself first if you have unproven beliefs which you accept unquestionnably as right or true. If so, then you cannot criticize any of these people. Yes, it sounds horrible and fatuous, and I don’t mean you can’t disagree with their actions or means, but you cannot criticize on moral grounds.

  53. Bill in SF says:

    “Temporarily stuck in human form as we are, our instruments for perceiving the universe around us are inherently flawed, susceptible to all manner of errors.”

    In the age of television, we are constantly bombarded with images and sounds. Apparently, we are more inclined to believe what we see over what we hear as shown in this clip of the McGurk Effect:

    Now, when Cramer is saying; Buy, Buy, Buy…. is he really say Fie, Fie, Fie?

  54. VennData says:

    Your chance to fix the US Federal budget

    I particularly like “Use an alternate measure for inflation”

  55. Fred C Dobbs says:

    Victor and Randy have made useful contributions and for that I say ‘thank you.’

    They and the rest of you might be interested about a carved, wooden ‘sign’ my grandfather had hanging on his wall in his study when I was a kid. He was born before the Civil War, long before Freud, Marx, and so on, the smart, educated German-speaking intellectuals.

    The sign read: “Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.”

    It doesn’t matter how, or why, it is just the way it is, and maybe we are here, alive today, because it is.

  56. fred2 says:

    Sorry to be off topic, interesting as the topic was. A brief extract from in my opinion the best Prime Minister Australia has had, commenting on the current global crisis. His final statement, about fixing the malaise, was “this can’t be done by the Americans”.
    Finding it a bit hard to decide what exactly can be done by Americans these days, between the incredible track record and the incumbent position on one hand, and the loopy politics and the rising strength of other regions on the other.

  57. Ltdata says:

    Re: the question of facts vs. beliefs
    Fitzgerald’s definition of intelligence is the ability to hold 2 opposing concepts in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function. Sounds like being open-minded.

    Beliefs are built over time, and it takes time and effort to dismantle/rebuild a belief. It takes intellectual rigor so it won’t likely happen fast if you are busy, stressed, or feel lazy, etc.. Also, from a co-worker psychologist “Familiarity is reassuring.” (Cautionary side note: I do Not recommend working for a psychologist, although I am certain there are very ethical ones out there. Could have been the person themself, since after meeting the person I thought, what a b*tch. Pardon my French.)

    Sounds like a tug of war between being open-minded and seeking familiarity.

    Confirmation bias is also found in The Art of Critical Decision Making, lecture 3 DVD from the Teaching Co. I’m half way through and highly recommend it. It’s 12 hours of case method and Prof Roberto presents good arguments and questions on cases. See link:

    @ fred2– we’re going …where no one has gone before (the Star Trek intro).

  58. Barry, spending by the U.S. federal government is not constrained by taxes. Nor is it constrained by borrowing. If both taxes and borrowing were $0, this would not reduce the federal government’s ability to create money by even one penny.

    The sole constraint on federal spending is inflation. This is not my theory or Warren Mosler’s theory. It is an absolute, undeniable fact. But since you disagree, please explain to your readers what does constrain federal spending.

    Until you come up with facts, you are the poster child for the person who won’t change his mind when presented with the facts. It takes a big man to admit he’s been wrong for the past 2 decades.

    The debt hawks have limited Social Security, limited universal health care insurance, limited infrastructure restoration, limited research & development and limited economic growth. They have caused more harm to America than the worst traitors and terrorists ever could dream of.

    Osama bin Laden is an amateur compared to the debt hawks.

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

  59. VennData, what is there about the federal budget that requires “fixing”?

    Rodger Malcolm Mitchell

  60. jeg3 says:

    Interesting to watch as the comments go and off topic, tempting to go off.

    That’s why in human affairs peer review, open access to information (especially public),
    and free speech are important to arrive at some form of concurrence. How are morality and truthfulness related
    (vs. honest debate), especially in the political-economy arena?

    “The Great Debate
    On November 6th, 2010 a panel of renowned scientists, philosophers, and public intellectuals gathered to discuss what impact evolutionary theory and advances in neuroscience might have on traditional concepts of morality. If human morality is an evolutionary adaptation and if neuroscientists can identify specific brain circuitry governing moral judgment, can scientists determine what is, in fact, right and wrong?”

  61. jessica says:

    to DeDude at 9:55 am
    Thank you, you are right.
    Perhaps the differences between “it’s all BS” and “it’s all BS but my one chosen filter” and having most people more or less respect the dominant filter matter for society. “It’s all BS” dominated the Soviet Union at the end. “it’s all BS but my one chosen filter” is something we are exploring now, probably for the first time. There did not used to be different filters to chose from. I think that in the US until the 60s, most, enough anyway, of people more or less respected the dominant filters for those filters to function for most all of society. If people who felt alienated from the mainstream knew what it was. They just weren’t part of it.
    What does it mean if nowadays we don’t even have a mainstream to serve as a reference point?

  62. jessica says:

    Correction. Apology.
    Even people who felt alienated from the mainstream knew what it was. They just weren’t part of it.

  63. gcomp says:

    “Temporarily stuck in human form as we are,…”

    Is Barry a closet Taoist? Buddhist? Or maybe even a Gnostic? I had no idea that anyone in the world of Finance had a thought in their heads that didn’t involve grubbing for more money and power.

  64. Well, regardless of your religious or spiritual beliefs, you must admit that there was a long long period of time before you existed in corporeal (aka Human) form. And there will be a long long time after you no longer exist in that form.

    Hence, ““Temporarily stuck in human form . . . “

  65. Greg0658 says:

    RM glad to see you backtrack abit .. granted the government can create money to pay all bills to fill needs .. inflation to attain materials outside the containment zone is the issue .. next issue is labor taking the easy road versus the harder road – the 2nd reason for money in the 1st place

    cross threading … I’m sure the Chinese government wish well for their people .. survival of the many outweight survival of the few or the one .. as long as govenors are endowed for brilliance .. just as here in the USA .. our ‘isms aren’t that far apart

  66. ToNYC says:

    There is life for anyone in the world of Finance after grubbing for money and power. The spirit that temporarily has you stuck in that particular human form can get beyond the m-p race to the elegant satisfaction of getting over that random self of little use but being tool of spirits. Choose your spirits wisely.

  67. DeDude says:


    The ability to debate gets severely limited when you can’t even agree on basic facts.

    I have increasingly found myself just baffled, rather than ready to debate, when I hear some of the Foxheads reciting their masters words. Obama is a socialist, should be impeached, and is the worst president ever etc., etc. At best we end up talking about the definition of socialism and exactly who it was that passed the bank bailouts – we never really get to discuss pro and con of actual policies. I will admit that part of that problem also comes from me; I just can’t stand more than 5-10 minutes of Fox because the constant steam of lies and distortions makes me want to throw something at the TV. So the universe they are referencing is an alien world to me.

  68. DeDude says:


    Yes as someone has noted before, money is simply a demand/promise on future labor. So printing money is creating increased demand/promise on future labor. It can be a short-term solution to get out of a pinch, but not a long-term solution to anything, because it creates inflation. It is actually very similar to if I decided that I do not need to work because I can just live on my credit cards (give promise on future labor). Initially it is fine but after a while nobody will take the money/credit card because they do not believe that the promise of future labor is realistic. If that promissory note on 4 hours of work ($100 bill) you gave me a month ago will only purchase me 3 hours of work today (i.e. severe inflation) then I will no longer accept being paid in such promissory notes ($100 bills).

  69. [...] old one but a good one… Your brain is broken… The Big Picture New research suggests that misinformed people rarely change their minds when presented with the [...]

  70. Long term says:

    “Around these parts, we are very keen to point out cognitive foibles.

    Temporarily stuck in human form as we are, our instruments for perceiving the universe around us are inherently flawed, susceptible to all manner of errors.

    It is a design error in the wetware.”

    Classic BR here. Great injection of writing and philosophy into the mix–and 100% new media in its nature.