Why do we like complicated theories?

Why does everything have to be so complicated?

Danielle: I heard they found evidence on Vic.
Dutch: Yeah. Maybe a little too much.
Danielle: What do you mean?
Dutch: You ever hear of Occam’s razor? The simplest answer is usually the right one? Good. Now apply that to the Lemansky case. Now all this evidence is pointing to Vic. Occam’s razor would suggest he’s guilty. Walter Chatton a contemporary of Occam’s. Disputed the razor. Coined his own anti-razor.
Danielle: What’s that?
Dutch: Chatton believed that the world was too complex. Too many variables to assume that the simplest answer was always the correct one.

From “Baptism by Fire,” the second episode of season 6 of The Shield.

I haven’t watched The Shield in years, but this exchange has haunted my dreams ever since. The world is indeed a complicated place, and most complex phenomena have complicated explanations, but, more often than not, the simplest hypothesis is the best. Why are so many of us tempted to believe otherwise, like Dutch here?

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Climate Change Denial

Why do so many Americans deny global warming/climate change? Is it because they’re idiots who don’t understand science? Is it because they believe in faith over reason? Or is there something else going on, a little more nuanced?

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Why We Ignore and Outright Deny Facts and Evidence

Superstition, belief in the unreal and belief in thoughts being made reality have always been human characteristics. We humans are far more inclined to believe something that fits with our existing view of the universe than something that doesn’t. When I knock on wood, I believe on some level that this act is having an actual effect on the world – that it can determine whether or not my hope comes true. This made sense once upon a time, when we didn’t know enough about the universe to know otherwise, to know better.

Literacy was supposed to change this, to make all of us better people, more credulous and more capable of critical thinking. It did not. Public education was supposed to do what literacy could not, but likewise did not. Improved access to higher education was supposed to succeed where widespread literacy and public elementary education failed, making us less superstitious, less gullible, less prone to believing we can will reality. It did not. And the internet was supposed to open up the world so that information would be democratized and we could all reach our potential as smart, rational, critical thinkers. So far it has not resulted in that world. (#Dontreadthecomments)

Though each of us has access to more information than ever before, it feels like anti-intellectualism is as strong a human characteristic as it’s ever been. Some superstitions might be dying out, but they are being replaced by more widespread beliefs in fanciful nightmares about how the world supposedly works. Conspiracy theories have been around for a long time, but they appear more widely believed than ever before (though that could be just a result of the echo chamber that is the internet).

Why is it that, when we have more information at our fingertips than any previous generation could have even imagined, most of us still believe nonsense? Many of us cannot figure out the difference between a fact and an allegation, between the truth and an appealing lie, between a verified story and an unsubstantiated rumour?

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