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Quantifying Gullibility

Quantifying Gullibility

    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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