In recent years, brain science has converged on a surprising framework to explain how we believe the things we believe. It appears that the origin of belief is emotive, rooted in things like group allegiance or the affinities we may have for certain patterns of moral values. Only later does our rationality speak up. “Motivated reasoning” is the term psychology gives this process, although a cynic might possibly be forgiven for calling it “bias.”
Where does this leave our beliefs about politics? On the one hand, we may have some cause for despair, as our beliefs may not be as objectively justified as we like to imagine. On the other, the emerging science of mind may yield effective ways to correct our biases, or at least to understand their origins. If so, a new, more sophisticated political science may be in order, one rooted firmly in brain science.
This month’s Cato Unbound features libertarian science writer Michael Shermer , who leads things off with a taste from his new book The Believing Brain: From Ghosts and Gods to Politics and Conspiracies—How We Construct Beliefs and Reinforce Them as Truths. He will be answered by Artificial Intelligence expert Eliezer Yudkowsky, perhaps best known for his work at the group blog LessWrong.com; Christian blogger and cultural critic Joe Carter of First Things and Evangelical Outpost; and Reason magazine’s science columnist Ronald Bailey.
Discussion will continue through the month, so be sure to stop by often or subscribe to Cato Unbound via RSS.