Why brilliant people sometimes believe numpty things

I’ve encountered a number of marketing myths that continue to get repeated as fact, often by people orders of magnitude smarter than Uncle Chuckles.

It used to confuse me immensely until I came across the reason unexpectedly.

When I first loaded the book Thinking Fast and Slow into Apple Books, it ran to over a thousand pages.

I’m kind of a slow, pop in and pop out kind of reader and I could see this book taking up years of my life, so I made the decision not to make any notes while going through it.

When I’d finished, I’d very nearly stuck to that decision, but not quite.

I made a single note when the development of prospect theory was being described.

The note I made though was more related to the utility theory that was disproved and superseded by prospect theory.

The previous theory had been widely accepted for a century or so, but it fell over very quickly when the concept of prospect theory was shared.

This made Kahneman and Tversky wonder about how a theory that was clearly incorrect could have been accepted as correct for so long by so many brilliant minds.

We’re victims of evolution

What they came up with was the suggestion that once an idea has been accepted as correct, it makes no sense for anyone to waste time and energy trying to disprove it. That time and energy would be better spent trying to prove something new.

It seems quite logical as most living creatures have evolved to expend the minimal amount of energy to help ensure their survival.

Take a stroll around la maison Chuckles and you’ll likely think we’ve acquired a macabre collection of road kill, with so many dogs and cats sprawled unconscious around the place, resolutely ensuring their survival by only waking at meal times.

So if someone you know and trust shares something with you that they believe is true, you’re probably going to accept it as true. Why waste time and energy when you assume they must have already done the donkey work testing its truth.

If you believe it’s true today, unless someone disproves it, you’re going to believe it’s true tomorrow.

In ten years time, you’ll probably be even more convinced of its truth, because by then you’ve repeated it to countless more people. The last thing you want at that point is to discover it’s not true, because there could be tens, hundreds or even thousands of people you’ve shared that truth with.

By that point, the last thing you want is for it to be disproved.

Fortunately, the more people who hear and share the truth, the less likely it will be disproved.

Ideally, it won’t be disproved because it really is correct and true.

It’s not always the case though.

That’s how we find ourselves in a place where brilliant and not-so-brilliant minds come to believe numpty things.

I don’t know about you, but I dread to think how many long held beliefs I have that are, in reality, pure numpty.

I’ve got a few myth busting articles on this site and I know I’ve repeated most of them as true at some point.