Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
Career Development
Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
Learn
from the world's big
thinkers
Start Learning

Why flat-Earth theory and anti-vax conspiracies exist

Humans are hardwired to believe in nonsense, says Michio Kaku. So what can we do about it?

MICHIO KAKU: We still have Flat Earthers, we have people that don't believe in vaccinations, and what do we do about it? Well, first of all, I think there's a gene. I think there's a gene for superstition, a gene for hearsay, a gene for magic, a gene for magical thinking. And I think that, when we were in the forest, that gene actually helped us. Because 9 times out of 10, that gene was wrong. Superstition didn't work. But 1 time out of 10, it saved your butt. That's why the gene is still here, the gene for superstition and magic.

Now, there's no gene for science. Science is based on things that are reproducible, testable -- it's a long process, the scientific method. It's not part of our natural thinking. It's an acquired taste, just like broccoli. You have to learn how the power can be unleashed by looking at your diet, for example. So I think 1,000 years from now, 1,000 years from now, we will have Flat Earthers. A thousand years from now, we will have people that still do not want to be vaccinated. OK? So what do we do about it?

Well, it's a struggle. It's a struggle that's eternal, because I think it's part of our genetic makeup. And there's even a name for some of this superstition. It's called pareidolia. What is pareidolia? It's the idea that when you look in the sky, you see things that are not there. Here's one experiment: Look at the clouds and try not to see something there. It's very difficult. You look at the clouds. You can't help it. You see Donald Duck. You see Mickey Mouse. You see snakes, animals. You see all sorts of stuff. You can't help it. Recently, the Notre Dame Cathedral partially burned down. And sure enough, somebody said, 'I see Jesus Christ there.' I saw the picture. Maybe you did, too. It really did look like Jesus Christ. But it was the ashes of Notre Dame. And how many times do people see the Virgin Mary in a glass of tea? So we are hardwired to see things that are not there. Because for the most part, they're harmless. For the most part, they do nothing. And once in a while, it saves our butt.

And so that's why I think we will have Flat Earthers, we will have the people who don't like vaccination, because hearsay throughout human history was the dominant form of information-sharing. You know, the internet is very new. Newspapers are very new. Science and technology is very new. But gossip, hearsay, slander, rumors, there's a gene for that. OK? So how do you combat it? Slowly, carefully, painfully -- it's a painful process, but in some sense, we're going up against our genetic predisposition to believe in nonsense.

  • If you see animals when you look at clouds or see faces in pieces of wood, that's called pareidolia: the phenomenon of making familiar objects from vague stimuli.
  • Humans evolved to be superstitious, and Michio Kaku posits that there is a gene for superstition and magical thinking. Nine times out of 10, your beliefs can be wrong, but one time out of 10 it saved your ancestors' butts, says Kaku.
  • Flat Earthers and anti-vaccination conspiracy theorists exist now, and they will still exist in 1,000 years, says Kaku. It's natural. Humans evolved to believe in nonsense, but it's by becoming good at something totally unnatural to us – science – that reason can prevail.


Live tomorrow! Unfiltered lessons of a female entrepreneur

Join Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter and best-selling author Charles Duhigg as he interviews Victoria Montgomery Brown, co-founder and CEO of Big Think, live at 1pm EDT tomorrow.

Improving Olympic performance with asthma drugs?

A study looks at the performance benefits delivered by asthma drugs when they're taken by athletes who don't have asthma.

Image source: sumroeng chinnapan/Shutterstock
Culture & Religion
  • One on hand, the most common health condition among Olympic athletes is asthma. On the other, asthmatic athletes regularly outperform their non-asthmatic counterparts.
  • A new study assesses the performance-enhancement effects of asthma medication for non-asthmatics.
  • The analysis looks at the effects of both allowed and banned asthma medications.

Keep reading Show less

Weird science shows unseemly way beetles escape after being eaten

Certain water beetles can escape from frogs after being consumed.

Surprising Science
  • A Japanese scientist shows that some beetles can wiggle out of frog's butts after being eaten whole.
  • The research suggests the beetle can get out in as little as 7 minutes.
  • Most of the beetles swallowed in the experiment survived with no complications after being excreted.
Keep reading Show less

Two MIT students just solved Richard Feynman’s famed physics puzzle

Richard Feynman once asked a silly question. Two MIT students just answered it.

Surprising Science

Here's a fun experiment to try. Go to your pantry and see if you have a box of spaghetti. If you do, take out a noodle. Grab both ends of it and bend it until it breaks in half. How many pieces did it break into? If you got two large pieces and at least one small piece you're not alone.

Keep reading Show less

Why are we fascinated by true crime stories?

Several experts have weighed in on our sometimes morbid curiosity and fascination with true crime.

Photo by Victoria Heath on Unsplash
Mind & Brain
  • True crime podcasts can get as many as 500,000 downloads per month. In the Top 100 Podcasts of 2020 list for Apple, several true crime podcasts ranked within the Top 20.
  • Our fascination with true crime isn't just limited to podcasts, with Netflix documentaries like "Confessions of a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes" scoring high popularity with viewers.
  • Several experts weigh in on our fascination with these stories with theories including fear-based adrenaline rushes and the inherent need to understand the human mind.
Keep reading Show less
Quantcast