New models of how ideas change make "true believers" and irrational conviction scary.

Once the networks were built, the scientists then "sprinkled" in some true believers throughout each of the networks. These people were completely set in their views and unflappable in modifying those beliefs. As those true believers began to converse with those who held the traditional belief system, the tides gradually and then very abruptly began to shift.

After ten percent of the target population had adopted the unshakeable belief, it abruptly became the majority opinion. Minority Rules: Scientists Discover Tipping Point for the Spread of....

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I saw that article, and I think we now have the explanation for the Holocaust. For over half a century, people have wondered how the civilized, cultured Germans could become such monsters. It wasn't just Hitler and a few cronies -- a genocide of that magnitude could not have been carried out without a LOT of cooperation.

So, yes, the unflappable believer IS frightening, and I'm scared that that's what's going on in the US right now with the Religious Right and the Tea Party. John Boehner, anyone? And I don't have any answers except that we have to be just as unflappable and aggressive as they are. If not more so.

And there are huge risks involved to life and property in areas like the Midwest and South, which may already have reached that tipping point. For the first time in my life (and I'm 63 years old), I'm afraid for the democracy of the US.

And I don't have any answers except that we have to be just as unflappable and aggressive as they are. If not more so.

I don't agree. In fact, I think that is the worst thing one could do, to escalate the arms race of "I'm right, because I'm right! You're wrong, because you're wrong!"

 

The answer is to promote skeptical, critical, and most-importantly rational thinking in the broader public forum. Have conversations with friends where you don't just sit quietly as they talk about how bad vaccines are or how wearing a garish bracelet can cure back pain. Speak up and say, "Doesn't sound so plausible to me, because X, and Y, and Z."

 

If you already do that, then push it forward to the next level. When you see irrational thinking in a group setting, speak up there. Or speak up when you see nonsense peddled on TV or in print or on the internet.

 

As a side benefit, exercising your critical mind will naturally expose you to the idea that you yourself may have some not-so-well-founded ideas, and when you dig them up and toss them overboard, it's a grand feeling, not to be weighed down by false dogma. It's a real kind of freedom; freedom of thought.

 

No, the answer is not to become as dogmatic as the dogmatists. That way has lead to religious wars, and these days will lead to worse. The answer is to confront and counter dogma with forthright, reasoned, and evidence-based argument. Our problem right now is that not enough critical thinkers are speaking up when they could. Let's overcome that fear.

I didn't say "become as dogmatic as the dogmatists." But being unflappable and aggressive (maybe should have said assertive) means confronting them and countering them, just as you said.
Yes, I'm afraid that this is happening with the Religious Right these days in the US also. I've been noticing it a lot more over the last few years, and it's really scary to me. I'm somewhat fiscally conservative, but I am so, so disturbed by the confluence of fiscal conservatism with religious fundamentalism and insanity!

the confluence of fiscal conservatism with religious fundamentalism and insanity.

Well put, Julie Carter. A succinct summary of the current trend.

So if 10% of a population are true believing atheists it becomes popular opinion?

I saw a video about a year ago similar to this. Someone got up in the middle of a crowd of people hanging around on a hillside, and began a stupid little dance. Pretty soon many others were dancing. It was part of an experiment too. I think the point was people don't usually do things out of the ordinary until they see someone else taking the lead. I know I'll never find that video again so I won't bother looking.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but doesn't this give hope to atheists? "We" comprise more than 10% of the population, so it stands to reason that more people will be exposed to rational thinking and ideas. In turn, this could help those 'closet' skeptics to be more open about their doubts and seek out information that can explain the world better than their religion can.
Paula, it would be nice, but would only happen if atheists were far more open and aggressive about their beliefs. In the Midwest and South, far more than 10% of the population is Right-wing religious Christian -- they have already reached that tipping point, and they are NOT going to stop being aggressive about it. The question is, are they going to be able to spread into the rest of the country? Our Constitution and democracy may already be doomed, but I'm not going down without a fight!
This is good news.  One day everyone will be wearing strainers on their head.  There are so many advantages here.  Not only is one prepared for any pasta emergency, it also protects your brain from those government mind control rays. 
Strainer apparel. A new fashion craze! Maybe that' how the kippah (stupid Jew hat) got it's start.

I think the problem for using this model as a predictor for (non)theism is that it attempts to measure the tipping point of how fast a new idea propagates or the tipping point of deeply committed people needed to sway ambivalent people.

 

From the text:

 

To accomplish this, each of the individuals in the models "talked" to each other about their opinion. If the listener held the same opinions as the speaker, it reinforced the listener's belief. If the opinion was different, the listener considered it and moved on to talk to another person. If that person also held this new belief, the listener then adopted that belief.

 

But if we simplify and say 10% nontheists are wandering around talking to 90% hardcore Christians, just as an example, then finding enough among the 90% to (1) listen and (2) consider would be the key. In my experience, those interactions are the exceptions, not the rule. If the principle held in a vacuum, then 10% of deeply convicted people would be trying to sway 90% of deeply convicted people, and thus, then the model would actually predict for the nonthesists to convert to Christianity.

 

So this might hold true in Tunisia, where the mainstream view is ambivalent or divided about the dictatorship, and somehow "primed" for a rational alternative paradigm. But in a multi-religious society, the (growing) minority of nontheists are probably only expanding in part because they have swayed listeners... and if so, is it enough to compensate for the evangelizing efforts of organized, well-funded faiths like the LDS?

 

From what I understand, Americans in their 20s are reporting a record proportion of nonreligious, atheist, or otherwise nontraditional belief systems that reject organized religion at a minimum, and often reject supernaturalism. But the studies seem to point to other factors besides atheist activism, though I surely trust that has a role, too.

 

To look at US TV fare, one gets the impression that supernaturalism is the majority opinion already.

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