This is my own take on Demon Friday, except it's not always on Fridays and it doesn't feature real demons or pictures of real demons. Sorry.
These are all my posts on demons:
- The demon of Laplace, regarding probability.
- The demon of Maxwell, regarding thermodynamics.
- The demon of Descartes, designed to invoke skepticism.
- The demon of Morton, designed to make one aware of confirmation bias.
"I knew I had a problem, and I couldn't admit it." - Lindsay Lohan, showing possession by Morton's demon.
This demon is similar to Descartes's demon in that it is a demon intent on fooling you. Except, instead of fooling you that the world is real and that you are wrong for not conforming to the world, Morton's demon convinces you that you are right and the world is wrong for not conforming to your ideals. To put it succinctly, Morton's demon is a personification of confirmation bias.
Paris Hilton. She knows all about critical thinking.
How to combat Morton's Demon
Naturally, combating Morton's demon involves admitting that you are wrong. This is not as easy as it seems, especially since you're already convinced that you aren't wrong. In other words, you rely on faith instead of on reason. It is deceivingly simple to substitute reason with faith, as is evident by the success of the law of attraction and the common misconceptions regarding the incompleteness theorems of Kurt Godel. A good way to combat Morton's demon is with critical thinking.
Filchers: A field guide to critical thinking
Filchers stands for Falsifiability, Logic, Comprehensiveness, Honesty, Replicability [sic] and Sufficiency. You may read all about Filchers in James Latt's excellent post on critical thinking. I shall only give a brief description of each aspect here:
- Falsifiability: Falsifiability means that the assertion is testable. In order for an assertion to be considered scientific, conditions have to exist that would render the assertion false. It is not always applicable to Morton's demon, especially since different degrees of belief are under scrutiny.
- Logic: Arguments presented to support a claim must be sound. This means that your assertions should necessarily follow upon each other. To paraphrase John Reed, everyone is entitled to their own opinions but everyone is not entitled to their own facts and logic. To paraphrase Paris Hilton, see you at the debates, bitches!
- Comprehensiveness: All the available evidence must be considered. This is where Morton's demon meets his match.
- Honesty: Evaluate evidence objectively. This means that all the evidence is evaluated without self-deception. Honesty means you come to a rational conclusion after evaluating all the evidence. Honesty is essential and complements all the other components of Filchers.
- Replicability: If the assertion is based on an experiment, then the experiment must be repeatable. Repeatability means that accurate predictions about future results may be made.
- Sufficiency: The evidence has to be sufficient to justify the assertion. Ordinary claims are supported by ordinary evidence, whereas extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.
In addition, it is helpful to keep some common logical fallacies in mind when evaluating evidence or when doing some soul searching to cast Morton's demon out of your own house. Marilyn vos Savant, one of the people with the highest recorded IQ, has a great article on logical fallacies for the layman.