We form our beliefs for a variety of subjective, personal, emotional, and psychological reasons in the context of environments created by family, friends, colleagues, culture, and society at large; after forming our beliefs we then defend, justify, and rationalize them with a host of intellectual reasons, cogent arguments, and rational explanations. Beliefs come first, explanations for beliefs follow. -Dr. Michael Shermer
All of us, scientist included, are living brains that interpret data and reality through the lens of experiences and attributions. Of course, the scientific method is the only way known to humans to verify our subjective judgments and intuitions. Because we are predisposed to make type 1 and type 2 errors in judgment, we must find ways to verify our beliefs A type I error, or a false positive, is believing something is real when it is not (a noise outside the house must be a burglar). A type II error, or a false negative, is not believing something is real when it is (the noise outside the house is just the wind).
Because our brains are pattern seeking, because they are belief engines that need to connect the dots and associate meaning, we believe things that are true and things that are not. This makes us vulnerable to make meaning out of the meaningless, purpose in the randomness, and agency behind the veil. There is now substantial evidence from cognitive neuroscience that humans readily find patterns and impart agency to them, well documented in the University of Bristol psychologist Bruce Hood’s new book SuperSense (2009):
As large-brained hominids with a developed cortex and a “theory of mind”—the capacity to be aware of such mental states as desires and intentions in both ourselves and others—we practice what I call agenticity: the tendency to believe that the world is controlled by invisible intentional agents. That is, we often infuse the patterns we find with agency, and believe that these intentional agents control the world, sometimes invisibly from the top down (as opposed to bottom-up causal randomness). Together, patternicity and agenticity form the cognitive basis of shamanism, paganism, animism, polytheism, monotheism, and all modes of Old and New Age spiritual-isms.
This requires us, beg us, to have a healthy skepticism. It’s one thing to be duped by the snake oil salesmen of the world, it’s quite another to duped and the duper. Self-deception is the worst kind of error. To reverse our belief is as rare as finding a black swan. Of course, religious people think they have found the black swans of all black swans. A supernatural event that is knowable beyond our senses. They have found the one thing that breaks the rules as we know them, a god. This demands a blind faith, not empirical evidence. It is as best the conflating anecdotal connections that should create humility, but somehow have created among the worlds religions an unbending certainty. Enough certainty, that 12 men would gladly fly airplanes into buildings for their faith. Enough certainty that ancient narratives are taken as scientific, historic and archaeological fact in spite of growing evidence to the contrary. Enough certainty, that a rigid ideology is held as settled, via magical and supernatural realities, and used as political, cultural and personal discriminations. Chasing Black Swans is about a challenging those dogmas with a skepticism that seems reasonable in the face of such fantastical claims.