This site is not maintained. Click here for the new website of Richard Dawkins.

Comment

← Sunk Costs and Expensive Beliefs

QuestioningKat's Avatar Jump to comment 3 by QuestioningKat

I am so thankful for this thread in ways that probably will not make sense to you. I am reading your words, but also seeing it from a completely different perspective. You are using the concept of "sunk costs fallacies" while I am seeing "change" and "ego." The concept of change is a strong issue in many religions and religious philosophies. Even the Bible is filled with ideas of putting down the old and pushing forth or not looking back, or giving up old ways of viewing something. Coming from a New Thought background, this concept was actually a prevalent teaching. The concept of ego pertained to the unwillingness to "go with the flow" or change. I have been tooting this horn back when I was heavily into new agey stuff except it was framed as an unwillingness to admit you were "wrong" or to put for the the energy to move in a different direction. (Actually we commented on how the traditional religions had this problem with their beliefs!!) I can see how this concept- no matter what it is called- is at the heart of people" sticking with it." The view that you have brought up is valid and I am thankful that you have reframed an old concept of mine into something less woo. And yes, it can be applied to holding onto religious beliefs.

Since believing in something is to make an investment in cognitive and temporal resources, and moreover that it's a social investment as well into the local culture, any sign that one is wrong constitutes not just a loss of investment but a social threat. If what one believes is incorrect, then one has been wasting one's time and mental resources in them. A decision comes up: switch, or stick?

I frequently compare this to someone who not suited for a particular line of employment or a new process is introduced that is not greeted wholeheartedly. Everyone has probably met someone like this. A change occurs and some people are reluctant to put in the effort to adapt. They dig in their heels and find others who agree with them and form an alliance or a way to support the "correctness" of their views. They want the status quo to be maintained because the uncertainty is threatening to their future and social standing. I think that this is a big cover up for something that they are lacking in and they know it. It's a control game. Maybe they lack the confidence of going out on a limb. Maybe they fear a loss of income and security. Maybe they dedicated a lot of time to get where they currently are and change would undo what they have built. They paint everyone else as wrong and stand their ground that they are "right."

How many ministers question their beliefs and push the ideas away because acknowledging their lack of belief would undo their entire past and what they have built? This includes education, time, family, friends, a house, a particular lifestyle, a retirement fund, medical insurance....How many people stay in jobs because they need the security that the benefits offer? How do they continue on? By making excuses...by defending their position...by gathering a like-minded group to support them.

It might, for instance, pay an organism to believe things that fellow organisms do, perhaps because this reduces disputes and encourages ease of cooperation among a social species. And being able to move up the social ladder, whatever that locally requires, would enable one access to more desirable mates.

I recall a study of jurors being set up in mock trials to be the only juror to disagree with the majority. The stress levels of these test subjects were extremely high. It would be easier and I would argue healthier to cave in with the majority.

In seems as if we are wired to want and expect cooperation. Put this desire in the hands of someone controlling and cooperation turns into conformity and obedience. I can now see how many religions have "moral codes" that emphasize behaviors that require obedience or strive for cooperation. In more liberal churches, they teach how to "have peace instead of this." They stress how to get along and "be loving (rather than challenging.) We would rather someone be nice to us rather than be truthful. Someone who is blunt and correct is viewed as sand paper (or strident) while a friendly, smooth talking conman capitalizes on people's desire for "niceness" to trick them out of something he wants.

It takes energy and time to reconfigure the brain to accept information, especially during childhood. This means we could potentially have a sunk cost if later evidence suggests it was a waste of resources. This is where the sunk costs come in.

I think you mean adulthood. Yes, nothing like hitting 40 or so and realizing you were wrong, wasted your time, or wish you chose differently. It's an awful feeling too.

Mon, 02 Jul 2012 02:31:05 UTC | #948427