Author Topic: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance  (Read 311 times)

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Offline clip11

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When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« on: July 13, 2018, 09:15:43 PM »
Leon Festinger, a social psychologist studied a cult in the 1950's. This cult predicted the end of the world and that it would be destroyed in a great flood. They predicted the date and a specific set of events. Obviously, you can guess what happened because here it is 2018 and the world still goes on as it does.

Now, you would think that the hardcore, in your face evidence of the world NOT ending on the predicted date would have convinced the cult that they were wrong, right??? Wrong!!! They doubled down on their faith!

After the world failed to end, they conjured up ad hoc rationalizations as to why there faith was still right, even in the face of indisputable contrary evidence. This is when Leon Festinger coined the term cognitive dissonance. And, it was found that those who sacrificed more for the faith were more likely to conjure up ad hoc rationalizations. So someone who sold all of their possessions and gave the money away was more likely to cling to any after the fact excuse for why the world didn't end while someone who took the day off work "just in case" was more likely to recognize it was bogus and move on.

This explains the mind of biblical literalist in the face of massive amounts of evidence for the theory of evolution. This explains the ad hoc rationalizations for failed prayer and non-existent miracles. This explains the mysterious ways waffling when the problem of evil is brought up.

For some reason this was my favorite quote:


12:05 am, December 21. No visitor. Someone in the group notices that another clock in the room shows 11:55. The group agrees that it is not yet midnight

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/When_Prophecy_Fails
« Last Edit: July 13, 2018, 09:38:19 PM by clip11 »

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #1 on: July 13, 2018, 09:19:53 PM »
See here for what an ad hoc rationalization is:
https://kspope.com/fallacies/fallacies.php

Offline velkyn

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #2 on: July 14, 2018, 07:51:22 AM »
love that quote, clip.   

The same supposed "prophecies" have been recycled for hundreds of years.  And they've failed every time.  Each generation is sure that they are the ones.  And they all go to their deathbeds making up excuses. 
"There is no use in arguing with a man who can multiply anything by the square root of minus 1" - Pirates of Venus, ERB

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Offline Nick

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2018, 07:52:40 AM »
I thought the same thing about people who avoid medical care for their children and rely on faith healing and the kid dies.  They do the same thing to the next kid.  Reality is void in these people.
Yo, put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Quit ragging on my Lord.

Tide goes in, tide goes out !!!

Offline jetson

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #4 on: July 14, 2018, 09:17:01 AM »
Investment is part of the problem, I think. When someone invests a lot into a belief that includes literal calls to action and life changing decisions, it would likely be much more difficult to admit they were wrong the whole time. Example, I know a woman who fell in love with another man just a few months before her planned wedding. She went on with the wedding despite knowing she loved someone else, but eventually got divorced. Her guilt over stopping an expensive wedding - the investment - was the reason she went ahead and got married.

I think humans find it very difficult to admit when they are wrong. I know I do. But I have done experiments in my own relationships where I dropped the defense of my own position in order to maintain a better relationship. It became more important to sustain a good relationship than to be right about something fairly trivial. Obviously not in every case, of course.

Offline Jag

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #5 on: July 14, 2018, 10:02:14 AM »
To me, this is very closely related to the 'Sunk Cost' fallacy, which is most commonly used in Economics. A 'sunk cost' is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

There's a short, but interesting, piece on this topic here: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/

Additionally, I stumbled across two more related fallacies on wiki, here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment, and here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True-believer_syndrome

I'm partial to the sunk cost fallacy simply because it it's the one I was introduced to first. It marked the first time I really grasped that Economics is a soft science.
« Last Edit: July 14, 2018, 10:03:50 AM by Jag »
"Tell people that there's an invisible man in the sky that created the entire universe and the majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." ~George Carlin

Offline Jag

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #6 on: July 14, 2018, 10:12:33 AM »
I think humans find it very difficult to admit when they are wrong. I know I do. But I have done experiments in my own relationships where I dropped the defense of my own position in order to maintain a better relationship. It became more important to sustain a good relationship than to be right about something fairly trivial. Obviously not in every case, of course.

The experimenting you refer to is a key part of conflict resolution in many cases. The question can and does frequently come down to 'which is more important right now? Being 'right' or being part of this relationship?'

It's part of why I'm so willing to throw down so hard here. I'm willing to disrupt my 'relationships' with most of the theists here because they're pretty superficial under the best of circumstances. I'm a bit more constrained with some of my fellow atheists following the same reasoning - I'm more willing to take the time to sort it out with someone I actually have developed some rapport with.

Having something in common is a BIG boost to rapport, and many of the theists who come here start out by emphasizing our differences. "You're going to hell, your morals are dangerous, my God is going to get you" are not good ways to make friends.
"Tell people that there's an invisible man in the sky that created the entire universe and the majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." ~George Carlin

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #7 on: July 14, 2018, 02:12:09 PM »
I thought the same thing about people who avoid medical care for their children and rely on faith healing and the kid dies.  They do the same thing to the next kid.  Reality is void in these people.
The church I grew up in said that we should not avoid doctors, but still pray AND go to the doctor. Of course, if prayer worked, why would you have to get medical treatment? We know medical treatment works on it's own. Has a doctor ever said "take this medicine, get this surgery, but you have to pray in order for it to work"

Offline Nick

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2018, 02:35:43 PM »
Not one I would go to.

(long story but funny:  I took a job in a small town once and when I went to the doctor there for the 1st time he came into the room dressed in Indian garb and chanted, shaking beads over me.  It was a joke put together by some of my co workers to welcome me to the community.  I almost got up and left town for good before figuring out what was going on.)
« Last Edit: July 14, 2018, 02:38:58 PM by Nick »
Yo, put that in your pipe and smoke it.  Quit ragging on my Lord.

Tide goes in, tide goes out !!!

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #9 on: July 14, 2018, 02:40:01 PM »
Investment is part of the problem, I think. When someone invests a lot into a belief that includes literal calls to action and life changing decisions, it would likely be much more difficult to admit they were wrong the whole time. Example, I know a woman who fell in love with another man just a few months before her planned wedding. She went on with the wedding despite knowing she loved someone else, but eventually got divorced. Her guilt over stopping an expensive wedding - the investment - was the reason she went ahead and got married.

I think humans find it very difficult to admit when they are wrong. I know I do. But I have done experiments in my own relationships where I dropped the defense of my own position in order to maintain a better relationship. It became more important to sustain a good relationship than to be right about something fairly trivial. Obviously not in every case, of course.
Humans evolved to be social beings and often times, people social circle is closely tied to their faith. And receiving social support and validation is more important than being right or logical. When I was a kid, my maternal grandmother passed away and the church we attended at the time helped our family out alot and not just in prayer, but actually helping with obituaries, cooking for us or generally anything we needed. And to a lot of people, being able to receive that kind of support is worth more to them. I actually think there are more atheist or at least those with athiestic leanings that attend church and continue to profess belief for that particular reason.

That's why it's important that atheist create fellowship groups or things of that sort where people can have a social circle. And even forums like these are good for that purpose, but nothing replaces interactions with flesh and blood human beings face to face.

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #10 on: July 14, 2018, 03:32:24 PM »
Not one I would go to.

(long story but funny:  I took a job in a small town once and when I went to the doctor there for the 1st time he came into the room dressed in Indian garb and chanted, shaking beads over me.  It was a joke put together by some of my co workers to welcome me to the community.  I almost got up and left town for good before figuring out what was going on.)
LOL

Offline magicmiles 2.0

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #11 on: July 15, 2018, 10:36:51 PM »

(long story

LOL. Only you could POSSIBLY call that a long story.

but funny

Agreed.

Offline One Above All

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #12 on: July 16, 2018, 02:16:04 AM »
Didn't the Seventh Day Adventists start like this, with repeated failed prophecies that somehow made people believe more? I recall it was mentioned on House.

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Offline YouCantHandleTheTruth

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #13 on: July 17, 2018, 04:26:10 PM »
To me, this is very closely related to the 'Sunk Cost' fallacy, which is most commonly used in Economics. A 'sunk cost' is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

This is exactly how I view this too.  Sunk cost fallacy also feels related to "I just can't admit that I'm wrong, I just won't, it's too embarrassing and a sign of weakness and stupidity on my part." These people can't admit they were wrong for 30 years - they're afraid of the repercussions from people saying "Dude how could you be so stupid?  You wasted your whole life?"

Did you even see The Leftovers?   The season premiere of the final season showed The Millerites, and some of their struggles when they kept making predictions for Christ's return in the mid 1800's and they kept being wrong.  The wife of one family kept showing up waiting for Jesus, and the husband angrily gave up after the first 3 predictions failed.

« Last Edit: July 17, 2018, 04:29:15 PM by YouCantHandleTheTruth »

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #14 on: August 15, 2018, 07:23:38 PM »
To me, this is very closely related to the 'Sunk Cost' fallacy, which is most commonly used in Economics. A 'sunk cost' is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

This is exactly how I view this too.  Sunk cost fallacy also feels related to "I just can't admit that I'm wrong, I just won't, it's too embarrassing and a sign of weakness and stupidity on my part." These people can't admit they were wrong for 30 years - they're afraid of the repercussions from people saying "Dude how could you be so stupid?  You wasted your whole life?"

Did you even see The Leftovers?   The season premiere of the final season showed The Millerites, and some of their struggles when they kept making predictions for Christ's return in the mid 1800's and they kept being wrong.  The wife of one family kept showing up waiting for Jesus, and the husband angrily gave up after the first 3 predictions failed.
I wonder if there's some difference in the brain of those who leave their religion after failed predictions and those who keep believing?

Offline Jag

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #15 on: August 16, 2018, 10:16:11 AM »
Did you even see The Leftovers?   The season premiere of the final season showed The Millerites, and some of their struggles when they kept making predictions for Christ's return in the mid 1800's and they kept being wrong.  The wife of one family kept showing up waiting for Jesus, and the husband angrily gave up after the first 3 predictions failed.

Sorry, I missed this earlier. I haven't seen it, but I just looked it up. It's definitely going on the list, it sounds fascinating!
"Tell people that there's an invisible man in the sky that created the entire universe and the majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure." ~George Carlin

Offline clip11

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #16 on: August 17, 2018, 11:01:05 AM »
To me, this is very closely related to the 'Sunk Cost' fallacy, which is most commonly used in Economics. A 'sunk cost' is a cost that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered.

There's a short, but interesting, piece on this topic here: https://youarenotsosmart.com/2011/03/25/the-sunk-cost-fallacy/

Additionally, I stumbled across two more related fallacies on wiki, here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Escalation_of_commitment, and here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/True-believer_syndrome

I'm partial to the sunk cost fallacy simply because it it's the one I was introduced to first. It marked the first time I really grasped that Economics is a soft science.
The sunk cost fallacy could be the thing that makes people sit at a slot machine for hours continually feeding it money

Offline albeto

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #17 on: August 17, 2018, 11:41:22 AM »
I wonder if there's some difference in the brain of those who leave their religion after failed predictions and those who keep believing?

There's no doubt. It would be similar to the differences in the brains of the those who kicked addiction and those who didn't.

Offline Boots

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Re: When Prophecy Fails: A look at cognitive dissonance
« Reply #18 on: August 17, 2018, 11:52:12 AM »
I thought the same thing about people who avoid medical care for their children and rely on faith healing and the kid dies.  They do the same thing to the next kid.  Reality is void in these people.
The church I grew up in said that we should not avoid doctors, but still pray AND go to the doctor. Of course, if prayer worked, why would you have to get medical treatment? We know medical treatment works on it's own. Has a doctor ever said "take this medicine, get this surgery, but you have to pray in order for it to work"

Reminds me of a saying from the Dark Tower book The Wind Through The Keyhole:

"Pray for water, but dig a well while you do it"
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