Tuesday, August 22, 2006

The joys of life without God | Salon Books

I mean, people who believe in astrology tend to believe all kinds of goofy things. All the pseudo sciences -- astrology, Tarot cards, psychics, mystic healing -- use the exact same principle. They work because we have a selective memory and a confirmation bias. We look forward to finding evidence for what we already believe and forget the rest. In an hour reading, a psychic will make 200 or 300 statements. If a person walks away with half a dozen things the psychic got right, he's ecstatic. It's like Skinner with the rats. You don't have to reinforce them every time. In fact, they'll press the bar even faster if you give them intermittent reinforcement. It's the same with slot machines. You just have to pay off every once in a while and it will keep us pulling the levers.


Do you call yourself an atheist?

I prefer not to use the term. Although I guess I am an atheist. I just don't believe in God. I've always liked Thomas Huxley's term, "agnostic," by which he meant it's an unknowable, insoluble problem from a scientific point of view. By my personality, I'm comfortable with not having the answer to everything. I'm perfectly happy going through my day, thinking, I really wish I knew the answer to that but I don't. I have a very high tolerance for ambiguity. Most people get cognitively dissonant about having uncertainties and need to close that loop and have an answer.



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