[Acomb, i will reply to your reply in a few hours. i just popped in to post this.]
I'm reading and taking notes on "Thinking, Fast and Slow" by Daniel Kahneman right now, and there's some good explanations about the flaws of our intuitive minds which could explain our desire to believe in grand, causal theories:
Now I will show you a logical argument-two premises and a conclusion. Try to determine, as quickly as you can, if the argument is logically valid. Does the conclusion follow from the premises?
All roses are flowers.
Some flowers fade quickly.
Therefore some roses fade quickly.
A large majority of college students endorse this syllogism as valid. In fact the argument is flawed, because it is possible that there are no roses among the flowers that fade quickly. Just as in the bat-and-ball problem, a plausible answer comes to mind immediately. Overriding it requires hard work-the insistent idea that "it's true, it's true!" makes it difficult to check the logic, and most people do not take the trouble to think through the problem.
This experiment has discouraging implications for reasoning in everyday life. It suggests that when people believe a conclusion is true, they are also very likely to believe arguments that appear to support it, even when these arguments are unsound.
A reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. [Ed: repetition induces cognitive ease. cognitive ease leads to lazy thinking]
Mood evidently affects the operation of System 1: when we are uncomfortable and unhappy, we lose touch with our intuition.
These findings add to the growing evidence that good mood, intuition, creativity, gullibility, and increased reliance on System 1 form a cluster. At the other pole, sadness, vigilance, suspicion, an analytic approach, and increased effort (bad fonts, unclear language) also go together.
"We must be inclined to believe it because it has been repeated
so often, but let's think it through again."
"Familiarity breeds liking. This is a mere exposure effect."
"I'm in a very good mood today, and my System 2 is weaker than
usual. I should be extra careful."
A story in Nassim Taleb's The Black Swan illustrates this automatic search for causality. He reports that bond prices initially rose on the day of Saddam Hussein's capture in his hiding place in Iraq. Investors were apparently seeking safer assets that morning, and the Bloomberg News service flashed this headline: U.S. TREASURIES RISE; HUSSEIN CAPTURE MAY NOT CURB TERRORISM. Half an hour later, bond prices fell back and the revised headline read: U.S. TREASURIES FALL; HUSSEIN CAPTURE BOOSTS ALLURE OF RISKY ASSETS. Obviously, Hussein's capture was the major event of the day, and because of the way the automatic search for causes shapes our thinking, that event was destined to be the explanation of whatever happened in the market on that day. The two headlines look superficially like explanations of what happened in the market, but a statement that can explain two contradictory outcomes explains nothing at all. In fact, all the headlines do is satisfy our need for coherence: a large event is supposed to have consequences, and consequences need causes to explain them. We have limited information about what happened on a day, and System 1 is adept at finding a coherent causal story that links the fragments of knowledge at its disposal.
Read this sentence:
After spending a day exploring beautiful sights in the crowded
streets of New York, Jane discovered that her wallet was missing.
When people who had read this brief story (along with many others) were given a surprise recall test, the word pickpocket was more strongly associated with the story than the word sights, even though the latter was actually in the sentence while the former was not. The rules of associative coherence tell us what happened. The event of a lost wallet could evoke many different causes: the wallet slipped out of a pocket, was left in the restaurant, etc. However, when the ideas of lost wallet, New York, and crowds are juxtaposed, they jointly evoke the explanation that a pickpocket caused the loss.
"She can't accept that she was just unlucky; she needs a causal story. She will end up thinking that someone intentionally sabotaged her work."