Touching the Wet Paint

It was George Carlin who said, “Tell people there’s an invisible man in the sky who created the universe, and the vast majority believe you. Tell them the paint is wet, and they have to touch it to be sure.”


Have you ever taken a moment to reflect on this rationally? You were told at some point in your life that a god exists out there somewhere. Throughout your life it was reinforced by the people and you accepted it because of the repetition bias. The repetition bias is a cognitive bias in which there is a willingness to believe what we have been told most often and by the greatest number of different sources. This is why beliefs tend to be geographically based, which means that you will most likely adopt a belief in god similar to the one in your region and/or the belief your parents share. If you had been born in the middle east, you would probably be a Muslim. If you had been born in an Asian country, you would probably be a Buddhist or unaffiliated.

You may think that because everyone around you believes this that it must be plausible, but you would be falling victim to the belief bias. The belief bias is the tendency to judge the strength of arguments based on the plausibility of their conclusion rather than how strongly they support that conclusion. Belief bias in conjunction with confirmation bias–which is tendency for people to (consciously or unconsciously) seek out information that conforms to their pre-existing view points–will cause you to subsequently ignore information that goes against them, both positive and negative.

Once you are trapped in these revolving mental gymnastics, you might fall victim to the status quo bias, which is the tendency to like things to stay relatively the same, when presented with new, factual information. This belief can continue to be reinforced by pareidolia, which is a psychological phenomenon involving a vague and random stimulus, often an image or sound, being perceived as significant.

I’ve outlined just a few of the myriad biases that keep you from thinking logically and rationally. It’s not easy to question what you believe and it may make you very uncomfortable holding contradictory positions (cognitive dissonance), but you should never accept something just because someone told you to or because it feels right. Most people are ardent skeptics, but have never thought of turning that skepticism toward their personal beliefs. That’s why they have to touch the paint to be sure.

“Take the risk of thinking for yourself, much more happiness, truth, beauty, and wisdom will come to you that way.” -Christopher Hitchens

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