Is Belief In the Supernatural Declining?

A rather annoying conversation I had recently with a farmer in a southern U.S. state went something like this:

  • Him – i’m telling you that UFO are real
  • Me – in what sense is a UFO real?
  • Him – scientists admit flying objects can’t be identified
  • Me – you believe something observed may be open to interpretation? like a point of light could be Mars until we realize it’s Venus?
  • Him – right, therefore aliens are real

Hopefully you see the problem. There was no convincing him that aliens aren’t real, because there could be doubt — at any level — therefore everything could be doubted at every level such that anything imaginable was as good as real.

Think of his position like this. If a car approaching you at night is missing a headlight, you might wonder if it’s a car or a motorcycle. Yet this guy seeing a single light believes he is about to be the first to prove the existence of a one-eyed space monster. Probability?

Philosophers dispensed with such nonsense in the 1700s with empiricism, and certainly in the 1900s established logic and reasoning to guide our rational approach to the unknown. Popper’s work in particular is important using a falsification method.

Unfortunately, an allure of mysticism is strong especially during uncertain times such as domain shifts in technology that force people to deal with lots of unknowns (technology destroying some of their assumptions, like suddenly losing old routines of working from an office and commuting in a car everywhere).

Bennett discuses the problem a bit in the 1999 book “Alas, Poor Ghost!”

It must be stressed that these women were not ignorant or ill-educated; nor were they socially or geographically isolated. They were dignified, sensible, experienced women, living in a middle-class suburb in a large city. Neither were they in any way eccentric;
on the contrary, they were pillars of their church and local community, essentially “respectable” in even the narrowest sense of that unpleasant term. Figures such as these do not at all give the impression that belief in supernatural cause and effect is declining.
It would seem that the world view of quite a substantial proportion of the population is probably decidedly less materialistic than scientists and historians imagine.

I’ll go one further. The celebrated Winchester House in Silicon Valley wasn’t about lack of education, and especially wasn’t about eccentricity, despite all appearances to the contrary.

Winchester was a foreshadowing of power and cognitive blindness, spending money into fraud, much in the same way that Silicon Valley today sees their “singularity” and “metaverse”. People are building a modern software version of Winchester’s infamous hardware “stairway into the ceiling” and “doors that open to a giant drop”.

Source: Alas, Poor Ghost!

I’ve written before about this and presented it many times in terms of Advanced Fee Fraud. The more I study the problem, the more widespread I’m finding it as a function of human susceptibility to social engineering.

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