Examined Lives: Adaptive Fictions (Session 34)
What if false beliefs make us happy?
Description: The default presumption in evolution is that it is adaptive for an organism to perceive the world as it is, i.e. seeing reality accurately should help survival and reproduction. But is this assumption always true for Homo sapiens? What about positive illusions? The placebo effect? Slightly elevated self-confidence? How about beliefs that, while false, improve group cohesion? Is it possible to have rational irrational beliefs? Can you choose to adopt a belief you know to be false? As Maarten Boudry asks, “Suppose we could wave a magic wand and get rid of all our erroneous beliefs. Suppose you could come clean with yourself and have truthful beliefs about everything you care about: the universe, your own self, your loved ones. Is this something we should want?” Are there times when ignorance really is bliss?
1. Boudry, M. (2023) Are some false beliefs good for you? Short article on ProSocial World.
2. 14-minute video (2023) : What if false beliefs make us happy? by Maarten Boudry. Talk starts at minute 1:35, ends at minute 15:06. Discussion follows, if you are interested. This was the May 2, 2023 session of the Evolutionary Philosophy Circle on ProSocial World.
3. Koloski, J. (2021) Mistruth can set you free: The power of misbelief. 9-min read.
4. Wikipedia page on positive illusions
5. 13-minute TED talk (2017): What if false beliefs make you happy? | Maarten Boudry | TEDxGhent
For the ambitious:
1. Edis, T. & Boudry, M. (2019) Truth and consequences: When is it rational to accept falsehoods? Journal of Cognition and Culture, 19, 147-169. Philosophy paper.
For the really ambitious:
1. The evolution of misbelief. 68-page section of the journal Behavioral and Brain Sciences (2009), 32(6), 493-561. Lead paper on “The Evolution of Misbelief” by McKay & Dennett, followed by multiple commentaries and concluding remarks by McKay & Dennett.