We live in an age that might someday be seen as the most absurd in human history. On one hand, every educated person knows that the physical structure of the human brain controls what people think and do. At the same time, the vast majority of humans also believe brains are part magic. We give names to the magic part of our brain such as mind, soul, spirit, and free will. The most common view that educated people hold about the brain is that its physical structures give us some tendencies and biases but we can use the magic part - the "mind" - to override all of that.

Recently scientists have discovered the area in your brain that controls your gullibility. It's the ventromedial area of the prefrontal cortex. When it's underdeveloped, as in kids, or degraded as in the elderly, the result is more gullibility.

Now we know which part of the brain makes people think they are part meat and part magic. If the ventromedial area of the prefrontal cortex is suboptimal, you'll believe in horoscopes, ghosts, devils, conspiracy theories, and whatever your favorite politician is saying.

I'm guessing we're already at or near the point at which scientists can measure a normal adult's level of gullibility. I'm sure there's some way to devise gullibility tests in the lab. And it looks as if we might someday be able to do a brain scan and see how active the ventromedial area of the prefrontal cortex is while a subject is contemplating certain hard-to-believe topics. Imagine how our ability to quantify gullibility could affect politics.

How long will it be before pollsters can show their results filtered by gullibility? I'd like to see the opinions of the gullible compared to the opinions of the people who have robust and fully functioning prefrontal cortexes. Even better, the first filter would test for knowledge on a topic, a second filter would test for general intelligence, and a third would test for gullibility. I'd only care about the opinions of people who passed all three filters.

Interestingly, a person can be brilliant and well-informed but gullible at the same time because the brain uses different zones for different functions. I'd like to know who my brilliant-but-gullible fellow citizens are because those folks are a menace to society. The brilliant part makes them highly capable while the gullible part makes them dangerous. The ones who don't become serial killers are voting. In terms of body count, which is worse?

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-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 6, 2012
apropos gullibility, do you believe also what scientists found immediately ?

Just before people start shooting at me, telling "yes, that's exactly what it means to be gullible: not believing in what is scientifically proved!", let me explain a little bit more what I mean:

in 1500, scientist were DEAD SURE that the earth was flat, and that being healthy or not was due to the "flegma" in your blood : too much or too low, and you were sick...

What if in 20 years these studies shown here result wrong, because based on some wrong assumptions, or because there is a small calculation mistake with a big impact on the global result .... and so on ?
+5 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 4, 2012
I think this thing labeled gullibility is an important component in the recipe for character. Without it persistence, curiosity, optimism and self-control become impossibly clinical. Embracing purely the rational turns us all into your favorite label, moist robots, which is really just a covert way of saying, psychopaths. As such it would be rational to just kill yourself because you have no higher purpose other than to ultimately die and return to dust anyway. I would argue that humanity derives value from the intangibles, a byproduct of which is a lot more societal order than you're willing to give credit. Throughout history chaos and misery have befallen humanity a lot more when we've rejected our hard-to-believe topics than when we've embraced them. When the rover landed on Mars skeptics said, why are we doing this when we have so many other allegedly more important problems to address back on Earth. While from a purely rational standpoint that argument is true, the scientists said we need to see the value in the possibilities that might be born from this adventure that we don't know exist yet. The same can be said for human consciousness.
Sep 3, 2012
Good post. Now I know what part of the brain always makes me think I'm gonna get lucky before last call.
Sep 2, 2012
One more thought: If they do find a way to scientifically quantify gullibility, why do I suspect its primary application will be by marketers?

Recently saw an article that suggested con artist scams are intentionally sloppy and implausible to screen out all but the most susceptible marks. That's sort of scientific test right there.
-1 Rank Up Rank Down
Sep 1, 2012
Kingdinosaur: "You've also tried to apply a quantifiable measuring system to non-quantifiable things (souls), which is outside science's field of expertise."

I think "soul" is only non-quantifiable, because those who believe in it have not given a proper definition of that term. There's no reason it has to stay that way. At least if the soul-proponents are interested in working with the scientists.

After all, who'd have thought we could measure gullibility one day? And now it's plainly visible on the horizon.
Sep 1, 2012
It's not just a matter of a pure, definable quality that is gullibility. There's hubris, the desire to believe (or not believe) something, attempts to apply expertise to a field where it doesn't apply, etc. And it's definitely not confined to the ignorant, the desperate or the plain stupid. Even the brilliant are susceptible -- especially if they're high enough to have flatterers and good press.

Intelligent investigators explore the paranormal and regularly get snookered by less-than-brilliant frauds, or by their own assumptions. Successful musicians and singers nonchalantly assume they can do that new thing as well as those untrained teenagers and roll out unfortunate albums. A pundit who can draw a crowd figures he's a power broker or even a candidate.
Aug 31, 2012
Would you call someone "gullible" who's sincerely looking forward to sipping caffeine-free Coke on planet Kolob with his 8 wives in magic underwear?

OK, so there are about as many Mormons who believe in the planet Kolob as there are Catholics who refrain from birth control. You might say a lot of religions have devolved into mere social organizations -- and with great tax shelters.

But what would be fun to do if Romney wins is to troll my uncle, the Rush Limbaugh Republican (everybody has a uncle like that). So after Romney wins, I'll join the Mormon church and then try to convert all my Evangelical tea party relatives to Mormonism. If they can annoy me with emails about Obama being a secret Muslim, I can annoy them with their hellbound, coffee-drinking ways.

In fact it would be great fun if millions of trolls descended upon the Mormon temples next Jan in an outpouring of fake affection. The church would burn up precious resources trying to digest these new recruits, and the lines outside the temples would be a black eye for the competing Evangelical churches. Better yet, join an Evangelical church now, so you can make a big stink about leaving to join the Mormons. Fun times.

Aug 31, 2012
My Nigerian business partners have perfected a way to find who is brilliant-but-gullible.

Normally our list of brilliant and gullible people from around the world sells for $250,000 and our clients are happy to pay it.

Truly, at that price it is a steal.

However since I am a long time fan of your work, I've negotiated a special price just for you.

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Just for you Scott, no one else, keep this to yourself....
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Your investment of $24,987.76 gets you a list of all the thousands of people who have sent $10,000 or more. Our list will pay for itself after you email the first 10 people on it.

Act now, this is a limited time offer and supplies are running out. After 1:22 am Eastern on Saturday you have to pay full price.

Take action now, don't think, just act!
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2012
priceymark: If the "gullible" argument is used against you, the answer is easy: Ask him to present his evidence that <holding statmement x to be true> implies gullibility.

While he's thinking, have a coffee.

Of course, regarding religion, all relevant arguments have been presented centuries ago, some millenia ago. By now, gullibility can be regarded as established simply because no new argument has been presented since Kant demolished Augustins perfection argument. Ok, ignorance is not gullibility but can be cured by learning, so having religion is not sufficient to establish gullibility.
Aug 31, 2012
So you want to test all people in order to marginalize the vast majority of their opinions? I'm totally with you on this venture, but stupid and gullible people will formulate some variant of the "I don't test well" argument against metrics like these, and make it politically impossible to publish statistics related to those numbers.

We'll just have a new something like HIPAA that conceals a person's health problems or FERPA that conceals a persons grades and educational assessments.

The problem with performance testing is that even though everyone thinks they're above average, math continually demonstrates otherwise, and people hate that math and pass laws to prevent you from using it.
Aug 31, 2012
As I read this topic, my first thought was … wait a minute, believing that the mind is more than the sum of the functions of our brain, ie believing in mind, spirit, soul, free will, etc., is gulible?

Thought two: I should write a counter argument stating that no one fully understands how the brain works, quantum physics allows for the possibility of free will, etc.

Thought three: Scott could reply -- see everyone, gullibility in action.

Thought four: It must be a really effective tactic if you are against a controversial topic to avoid arguing the facts but instead turn it into whether or not you are crazy/gullible/stupid to believe it. This constantly puts your opponent on the defensive. I could make a brilliant, logical case for the existence of God, but rather than countering it point by point, you would look at me with sympathy and say don’t judge him everyone. He can’t help it. His ventromedial area must be really overdeveloped.

Thought five: I wonder if Obama and Romney deliberately use these tactics?

Thought six: what if I am gullible? How would I know?
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2012
workerant: "If the prefontal cortex defines our gullibility, what defines our cynicism? Maybe the two can develop in different ways and cancel each other out. "

Easy :-)
- small prefontal cortex: gullible
- large prefontal cortex: cynical (Could we call it hyperrealistical instead? It's closer to the truth and sounds better too.)
Aug 31, 2012
(If a shyster shows you 4 balls, lets you count them, and then covers them up and tells you that there were actually 5 balls, you have to decide on how sure you are that there are 4 balls. If you have a bad memory, or are unsure in your ability to count, then you may beleive that other person.)

A good scammer (different than a shyster) would add a 5th ball after he covered the other 4 just to make sure you were proven wrong. Then 2-3 other "random" people working for him would jump in to defend him. You'd then be forced to call him and several others lairs, assuming you were sure you didn't screw up.

When gullibility fails, there's always peer pressure.
Aug 31, 2012
("Imagine how our ability to quantify gullibility could affect politics."
-To be honest, I'd rather see that research resulting in a treatment. )

It'd never happen. Gullible people would be led to believe they are the only non-gullible ones and that the treatments should be banned because it isn't fair. What's more likely to happen is the government designing a drug that makes people more gullible and permanently shrinks that area of the brain.
+2 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2012
"Imagine how our ability to quantify gullibility could affect politics."

To be honest, I'd rather see that research resulting in a treatment.
+1 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2012
Dil_doh "What about stupid people who are not gullible- what would they look like?"

Like Mark Twain: "I'm from Missouri, you have to show me."

An ideal worth trying to reach.
Aug 31, 2012
If the prefontal cortex defines our gullibility, what defines our cynicism? Maybe the two can develop in different ways and cancel each other out.
+3 Rank Up Rank Down
Aug 31, 2012
hbmindia: Yes, and Scott even wrote about it years ago and caled it "selective idiocy" or something. This blog doesn't have a search function, so I can't come up with a link.

The story was about him showing up, fuming, at a pager or mobile shop with a non-working phone or pager and the guy just putting in the battery the right way round, without even looking.

Message: One can be too stupid to use a phone but intelligent enough to "operate a car" in order to get there and back without shedding blood.
Aug 31, 2012
Can't a person be gullible in some areas and not gullible in others (in subjects he is more knowledgeable about)?
Aug 31, 2012
Nice juxtaposition of truth with speculation. You have just tried to tell us that you have proved a negative. Scott Adams just proved, to his own satisfaction, that the soul does not exist.

Next, Scott will follow this amazing, some would say impossible, feat, by letting us know that the universe created itself.

Oh, if only I had the sheer brain power, or at least the incredibly unbelievable gall, to pronounce things that are rank speculation as fact. How I wish I could be as certain as Scott about everything. No need to ever question my beliefs; completely able to discount anything that doesn't match my world view as the rantings of magic-believing fools. I could then believe in anthropogenic global warming and dismiss a creator all in one great big thought.

When we dismiss out of hand something we really don't understand, we open ourselves up to ridicule and disdain. It would seem that Scott's definition of magic could be called having a closed mind to those things in which he cannot quantify or measure.

When you show me how the universe created itself, I will start to take you seriously. Until then, I'll continue to submit that you aren't quite as logical as you pretend to be.
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