“Experience is often a poor guide to reality” – The Belief Engine by James Alcock

March 26, 2012

“The belief engine chugs away, strengthening old beliefs, spewing out new ones, rarely discarding any. We can sometimes see the error or foolishness in other people’s beliefs. It is very difficult to see the same in our own. . . The true critical thinker accepts what few people ever accept — that one cannot routinely trust perceptions and memories. Figments of our imagination and reflections of our emotional needs can often interfere with or supplant the perception of truth and reality.”

– James E. Alcock 


I tell people I was born skeptical and life has made me cynical. But it has also made me a better skeptic.

I’ve been a subscriber to The Skeptical Inquirer magazine (published by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry) for 28 years and was a co-founder of the original New York Area Skeptics back in the 1980’s. I created the logo they used for many years.

SI has published many great articles over the years but one I return to over and over again is this piece by James E. Alcock, professor of psychology, Glendon College, York University, Toronto, “The Belief Engine” from 1995.

Perhaps it’s because his line “experience is often a poor guide to reality” so closely echoes Ibn Khaldûn’s “experience is deceptive” written 700 years earlier.



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