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Why People Believe Weird Things

            "William James used to preach the "will to believe." For my part, I should wish to preach the "will to doubt.". What is wanted is not the will to believe, but the wish to find out, which is the exact opposite." .
             Bertrand Russell.
             I"d like to start this essay with the following sentence: .
             "Never in the history of the world have so many humans been so willing to accept "weird things." .
             It would start my essay off with a bang; it would make the whole thing seem dramatic and relevant and would smooth out the thesis I would like the present. .
             But the rest of my essay would suffer; my premise would be completely wrong. Probably fewer people believe in "weird things" (i.e., the paranormal, the superstitious, the religious, magical and scientifically untrue) today than ever before; there is more science today than there ever has been. It is true that Religions, myths, superstitions, mysticisms, cults, New Age ideas, and nonsense of all sorts have penetrated every nook and cranny of both popular and high culture. Beliefs in things like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster, clairvoyance, fairies, emotions in plants, pyramid power and the Bermuda Triangle abound, and not just on a lunatic fringe. A 1990 Gallup poll of 1,236 adult Americans showed that, for example, 52% of those polled believed in astrology, 19% believed in Witches, 22% said that Aliens had landed on earth and 41% that humans and dinosaurs had lived simultaneously. Yet there are over 100,000 scientific journals currently in publication. Certainly there are more atheists now than there were even fifty years ago, and supernatural explanations for nature have largely - at least officially - been replaced by scientific conclusions. .
             As Michael Shermer discusses in his book, "Why People Believe Weird Things", there is a difficult line to walk when separating pseudoscience from actual science. Believing in psychics makes us feel better; there is scientific proof of the psychologically placating (and therefore healing) effect of prayer.

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