If you haven't yet had the opportunity to read the Times piece on the biological and neurological foundations of belief
, you may want to check it out. I have been following some of the scientific discussions of the cognitive origins for non-rational thought, such as metaphysical experience (e.g., talking in tongues), and this particular piece cogently pulls together the various themes to explain why people are so predisposed to believe.
I couldn't help but use this article as a lens for reading what I have seen in recent months. In particular, I have been exposed to a good deal of research presentations at conferences, etc., where I have left baffled at how people come to believe in the things that they do. The most troubling of which is the belief that one's research is “transformative”, even if the research is not action research or interventionist, and the research findings will never reach more than an incredibly small audience. How can one claim their work is transformative when there is no discernible impact to anyone, let alone culture, society, or politics? I don't doubt the earnestness in which one believes their work is “transformative”, however, I do doubt the actuality of any transformation.
Others problems have been pointed out. For example, Neil's dissertation proposal
quantitatively measures the “left” bias in educational research. Although educational research is probably left-biased (from my experience at least), it would seem to me that in some cases the problem is more fundamental than ideology but a problem of belief. In essence, people's better judgment is clouded by a belief in their work's goodness, righteousness, and efficacy. They hence continue to focus on a certain set of problems out of belief rather than rational choices as to which area will gain the most form their work. Emerging work in cognitive neuroscience is pointing to the ways in which people come to believe, even in those things that are not necessarily visible. I can't help but think that belief, more so than ideology, is the most destructive force.