Detailed guides to painful problems, treatments & more

Optimism by denial

 •  • by Paul Ingraham
Get posts in your inbox:
Weekly nuggets of pain science news and insight, usually 100-300 words, with the occasional longer post. The blog is the “director’s commentary” on the core content of a library of major articles and books about common painful problems and popular treatments. See the blog archives or updates for the whole site.

Ever loved a book in spite of the fact that it uncomfortably undermined your beliefs? Or because it did? Sagan’s The Demon-haunted World is my only obvious example: I devoured it eagerly, even though it was crushing my dreams one pseudoscientific idea at a time. The medicine was bitter, but I could see that it was good for me. Or might be.

All too often, I receive fan mail about one of my books, from readers who claim to be completely satisfied with what they have read… but their message features a passionate pitch for an idea that is totally at odds with the book that they just read and supposedly “loved.” If they had truly understood and appreciated my book, then they could not possibly also be excited about that idea!

Information just bounces off some people! They can see only what they want to see. Which is a kind of a superpower, I guess: the ability to love a book by ignoring the parts of it that you dislike if you paid attention to them. Confirmation-bias powered positivity! “Everything is awesome,” but only because all evidence to the contrary has been avoided or denied.

People are bizarre.