I’ve spent a great deal of my life observing stuff, including people. We can learn a lot by observing people. But, just because we’ve “seen” it a time or two, does NOT make our inferences accurate. In fact, under such conditions, they’re not even remotely accurate most of the time.
But, my point in this piece is not about properly validating legitimate statistical inferences; it’s about human gut-feelings and the way some people go about validating them.
In other words, do we let out preconceived notions trump reality or do we let reality dictate the way we see things? The former is certainly a less stressful and more convenient way to live.
It’s also more dangerous over the long run. However, I’m not going into that here.
Scientists love to prattle on about the fallibility of preconceived notions based purely on anecdotal gut-feel. On the other hand, empiricists—and I’m a charter member of that group of prattlers—draw their conclusions from material evidence and objective observation.
However, sometimes either none of that kind of evidence exists or it’s simply too costly to find. As well, NONE of us are immune to occasional preset notions. And, anecdotal gut-feel may be all that’s available.
Yes, it’s a scientific no-no, but ample portions of material evidence and objective observation have shown that such feelings are not always a mistake.
For example, over my 40-year career, I think I’ve spent about eight of them on airplanes. I’m not at all nervous about flying. However, I understand the physics involved. It makes flying an enjoyable cake-walk, not to mention a fantastic timesaver!
But, many people are petrified to fly. And, for the life of me, I’m not able to understand how anyone believes that telling such people that flying is “no more dangerous than crossing a street,” will make them less afraid to fly.
I doubt that telling them such drivel does a thing to lessen their fear of flying; it simply makes them MORE afraid of crossing a street. And, while I’ve never done any formal statistical research on this, I’m betting my anecdotal gut-feel is not far from the mark.
Religion is another area where anecdotal gut-feel plays a prominent role. A comedian, Cathy Ladman, said, “All religions are the same: basically guilt, with different holidays.”
If we examine the fundamental premise behind virtually every religion on this planet, guilt stands at the forefront.
Fundamentally, we’re taught that we’re nothing but common scum created—in HIS image and out of the kindness of HIS heart—by an alleged immortal, omniscient, and omnipotent Deity.
MY gut-feel screams into my ear; “This is pure poppy-cock!” Pure anecdotal gut-feel on my part? Yep, it sure is. But, since there is no empirical way (material evidence/objective observations) to prove otherwise, my gut-feel is all I have.
Regardless, though, what is the purpose of combining guilt with the fear of hell to keep potential sinners in line with the wishes of the Almighty? There are many reasons for people to be “good;” but, religion seems to pick all the bad ones.
But, whatever the purpose, some degree of empirical evidence has shown that it does not work, at least when it comes to “sinful” sexual behavior.
I think it was part of the massive Kinsey study on human sexual behavior; but, I’m not sure, and I don’t have the time to research it right now.
Anyway, the researchers studied 15,000 randomly selected people regarding their sexual conduct. They found virtually NO differences between atheists and highly religious people relative to their sexual behaviors.
While both factions engaged in the same kinds of sexual activity, the religious felt very guilty about adultery, masturbation, “impure” thoughts, and myriad other sexual “no-no” conduct.
However, the GUILT didn’t stop them from engaging is such behavior; it just made them feel bad about doing it.
How’s this for gut-feel? I suspect that the person who invented contact lenses was a guilt-ridden Catholic. Being that persistent masturbation is alleged to be the cause of blindness—ask any nun—what better way to hide the evidence than with wearing contact lenses?
Having been raised in a strict Catholic household, I learned early-on that all the rules could be circumvented via technicalities.
For example, as a youngster, I never did find a priest, minister, rabbi, nun, or any other religious authority that EVER told me it was OK for me to smoke while I was praying. On the other hand, neither did I ever find one who condemned me for praying while I smoked.
Permission is all in how one phrases the question, which depends on what behavior one wishes it to be OK to do. Every good attorney knows this INSTINCTIVELY.
Yes, guilty feelings may make us feel bad after we’ve done it, but feeling bad dissipates with frequency. I’ve been wearing regular eyeglasses since I was 14-years-old. Doing so embarrassed me at first; but I got over it in short order!
Joe Walther is a freelance writer and publisher of The True Facts. Email comments here.