Believer, Do Not Trust Your Brain!

Given that so many billions of intelligent people down through the millennia have been wrong, dead wrong, about so many important things, one should be committed to being an honest life-long seeker of truth. Daniel Dennett said, 'One of the surprising discoveries of modern psychology is how easy it is to be ignorant of your own ignorance.' [Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, page 31]. Recognizing one’s own fallibility and ignorance is the inaugural point to any honest person’s search for knowledge.

In our search for truth we must distrust our brain. It will deceive us if left unchecked. The brain does not work that well at getting to the truth. It needs help. It needs better inputs, the objective inputs of science. Without these objective inputs it can easily be deceived. For the brain is a belief engine. It creates stories out of random data. It sees patterns in random data. The brain will accept and defend what it prefers to be true and what is familiar, over evidence to the contrary. It can even justify what it concludes in the face of some unquestionable evidence. Once the brain latches onto an idea it can be extremely difficult to dislodge that idea from its grasp. The more important the idea is to the brain then the less likely it can be dislodged. There is a massive amount or solid research supportive of these undeniable facts.

So don’t trust the brain when considering issues near and dear to your heart. Ideas such as those require a higher level of skepticism, especially if there is no hard evidence. Even with hard evidence the brain can and will attempt to deceive you. If left to itself the brain will try to fit all facts into a grid of self-preservation, a procrustean bed of its own making. That’s because the brain evolved to think this way. That’s because the brain’s main function is to make sure its host survives in this dog-eat-dog world of ours. Coming to 'honest' conclusions is not its main function. While the brain is usually reliable there are many times it cannot be trusted. It deceives itself. The reason it’s so incorrigible is because its primary purpose, if we can even speak this way, is in its own self-preservation..

The brain will lie to us the most when it comes to familial and social ties. Since the fittest survive we have learned to depend on the closeness of our own species, and our own people within our species to help us survive. We depend on people in our group to help fend off others who are in the out-group, and to help us in times of need or tragedy. So conforming to the opinions of our particular in-group keeps us within that group’s safety net, with group assistance and privileges, rather than being ostracized and/or banned to fend for ourselves in a brutal red-with-blood predatory kill-or-be-killed world. So the brain tricks us into accepting and defending whatever the group thinks. It’s called 'group-think' for a reason, and we all do it.

One must have the courage to buck any and all peer pressure coming from family, friends and/or church grouping when it comes to the truth. Truth for the courageous person is paramount. It must be. So if we really want to force the brain into submission, we should be courageous enough to disregard what people close to us think. We must train the brain by 1) Asking lots of questions, 2) Thinking like a scientist; and 3) Practicing the intellectual virtues of courage and open-Mindedness (or doxastic openness). —John W Loftus