Michael Shermer publishes Skeptic Magazine and examines why we are drawn to superstitions and modern myths. We have some good reasons to seek patterns and believe them.
What’s the advantage of belief? What’s the danger in belief? Well, let’s see.
Some key points:
Patternicity – tendency to find meaningful patterns in both meaningful and meaningless noise. Unfortunately we sometimes assume all patterns are real.
Association Learning: We connect the dots: A is connected to B; B is connected to C. Sometimes, but not always, A really is connected to B. (about 2:30)
When people are in a state of feeling out of control, they tend to find patterns more often.
What you are thinking about a lot tends to affect what patterns you see.
Dopamine (a neurotransmitter in the brain related to controlling reward and pleasure functions) appears to be associated with patternicity. Shermer suggests a scale can be used with dopamine levels that relates to individual behaviour (about 9:30):
Low Dopamine – extreme skepticism, missing a lot of patterns, both real and illusion
Medium Dopamine – flourishing creativity, ability to recognize and evaluate patterns
High Dopamine – potential madness, see patterns everywhere and unable to filter the illusion from the real
1. Shermer mentions “Association Learning”. I use association in my own writing quite a lot. I’m drawn to it. My goal is creativity though, and not knowledge or truth. I’m tempted to associate three ways of looking at the problem of patternicity with three personalities (these are vague categories, similar to Shermer’s low-medium-high dopamine measures):
The emotional type : I perceive a pattern. I feel it and believe it.
The reasoning type : I perceive a pattern. How do I test and verify it?
The gamer type: I perceive a pattern. Can I play with it?
Do you fit into any of these three personalities? Or something else?
2. Shermer’s talk is an example of what I’ve been calling an emerging “aesthetic”. Groups of people are deliberately denying authority to the quick-response patternicity embedded within us, choosing instead to trust the slow, plodding efforts of the testing mind. I’m calling it an aesthetic because I think there is a growing emotional appreciation towards things like rationalism, predictability, scientific inquiry and rigour. I don’t think this has ever been the basis for community before, but maybe I’m wrong.
What do you think?