Dec 03 2012

The Higgs and Wishful Thinking

“I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Me!”
– Daily Affirmations With Stuart Smalley.

Self-help books are full of advice for thinking positively, and using affirmations to tell ourselves that the reality we wish to be true is in fact true. This is interesting because psychologists have discovered that people in general have a large positive cognitive bias – a wishful thinking bias. All other things being equal, we will tend to assume that what we wish to be true is actually true. Sometimes we can maintain this belief despite significant contradictory evidence.

It may be that this bias exists because it relieves cognitive dissonance. Essentially, it makes us feel better, and that may be sufficient. However, there is also a theory that such wishful or positive thinking is, to an extent, self-fulfilling. People who think they will be successful will take advantage of opportunities and work harder to make that success a reality. Expectations can even affect other people, the so-called Pygmalian effect. If teachers believe that a student will perform better, that expectation may improve the student’s performance.

Richard Wiseman points out, however, that visualizing the goal (“I am a success in my business”) does not work (so much for positive affirmations). What is helpful is visualizing the process by which a goal can be achieved.

Within the “New Age” spiritual community, however, this psychological discussion over the impact of positive or wishful thinking is all moot. Within this community there is the widely held belief, or at least claim, that wishful thinking does not just create a successful attitude – it actually alters reality. This belief reached its pinnacle, perhaps, in the widely successful book, The Secret. This book promoted what it called the “Law of Attraction” – that wishing something to be true attracted that very thing to you. Essentially the secret is that the universe will answer your wishes – so wish away.

This is literally a childish attitude. Children often behave as if asking hard enough of the universe for something might produce the thing wished-for. Most adults have learned that the universe does not work this way – or perhaps they have just learned to hide this childish desire that they still harbor. They use their better developed frontal lobes to rationalize what they wish to be true (manifesting as a positive cognitive bias). ┬áReframing this wish-fulfillment desire as a “law” makes it sound a bit more respectable, however. ┬áThe Secret, and other such nonsense, in essence just gave some adults permission to embrace their childhood wish-fulfillment fantasy.

What does all this have to do with the Higgs boson?

A recent article by Mike Adams on his website, Divinity Now (Exploring Conscious Cosmology) argues that the scientists who “discovered” the Higgs actually got the results they wished for through “intention” – the word used by believers to refer to wishing, again to make it sound a bit more respectable. And yes – that is the same Mike Adams of NaturalNews infamy – the crank site that promotes, in my opinion, all sorts of medical pseudoscience. Apparently Adams is branching out into consciousness pseudoscience.

He writes:

But that assumption may be fundamentally incorrect for the simple reason that all known scientific knowledge has been gathered under a critical selection bias… the “consciousness” bias. The consciousness of intelligent, self-aware observers may actually shift the results of seemingly “random” events into the direction imagined or visualized by the conscious observers — even without their intending to alter the data. There is evidence that this phenomenon is, in fact, quite real, making it one of the “spooky” realities of our mysterious cosmos.

Adams does not link to any such evidence, but if his other articles are any indication he is likely referring to things like the recent book by Eben Alexander claiming “proof of heaven.”In other words, he is referring to low-grade evidence that has been thoroughly debunked. In fact “intention” is not an accepted scientific phenomenon. It remains a fringe idea without compelling evidence.

Adams is arguing in this new article that the scientists who found evidence for the Higgs affected the outcome of the random events that made up the collisions they were observing in the CERN supercollider to create evidence for the Higgs. He is not arguing fraud, or even bias, but that their intention altered reality. In fact he argues that all of science is, to some extent, one massive intention experiment where scientists “discover” what they are looking for. Since we cannot do science without scientists, the intention of those scientists is always in the loop. All of science, therefore, may be the result of wish-fulfillment, and not a process of discovering how the universe actually works.

Nice – all of science denied with one stroke. Adams is not the first crank to suggest this idea, which crops up from time-to-time in the fringe community.

This suggestion, however, is profoundly ignorant of the actual history of science, which is one long story of scientists discovering that what they thought about the universe is not true. Scientists have been failing to discover what they expect, or intend, since the beginning of science, forcing them to change their thinking about how the universe works. If there were any truth to “intention” as it applies to science, then we would likely believe that health is a product of the four humors, that a light-bearing ether permeates the universe, that N-rays exist, that mankind is the center of the universe, and that oxygen has negative mass (which is why it rises). The list of discarded ideas in science is massive. They are discarded because the results of careful experiments contradicted what scientists expected to find.

If, as Adams suggests, science itself is a big experiment in intention, then the results of that meta-experiment are clear – the intention of scientists has been consistently thwarted over the centuries, providing significant evidence for the absence of any intention effect.

Belief in the power of intention, or the law of attraction, or whatever you call it, is perhaps the biggest wish-fulfillment bias of all. Believing that wishing works is itself a manifestation of wishful thinking, and nothing more.

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