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WHY PEOPLE BELIEVE WEIRD THINGS

Sarita Cargas, cargas@unm.edu

Course Description

You know the media distorts information, you know that your own thinking can suffer from biases and prejudices, and you have certainly noticed that some people reason very poorly. This class is going to show you why this happens and how to arm yourself against assaults on your mind. You will also learn how to be a better thinker thereby improving the quality of your life. Recent books written on the topic are clever fun which make this class enjoyable (when not slightly frightening). The title of the class comes from one of the books we’ll read, and in it we’ll discuss why people believe in unusual phenomena from religion to UFOs. (This is not a negative claim about religion just an acknowledgement that some religious beliefs are extra-ordinary.) We will examine the role of scientific reasoning, and numerous forms of illogical thinking that lead us astray. This course has potential to help you become an even smarter person.

Readings and Texts

Why People Believe Weird Things, Michael Shermer 
This book written for popular consumption discusses our unfamiliarity with the scientific method and how that has lead people to believe in such things as UFOs and deny the Holocaust. 

Thinking Fast and Slow, Daniel Kahnman 
This author won the noble prize for his work. He explains that we think in two ways - one fast and one slow. The fast enables us to make quick survival judgements but leads us astray because we operate with numerous biases. Thinking slow is luckily a skill we can hone leading us to be much improved thinkers thereby saving us from making potentially seriously wrong and harmful decisions.

Films and Other Course Materials

Clips from “Thank You For Smoking”, “Inherit the Wind”, and documentaries on critical thinking.

Student Requirements

There will be short writing assignments on the weekly readings to help you focus on the most important points and several five – eight page papers. As this class is not lecture based students are required to participate in class discussions, small group discussions, and in class activities.

About the Instructor

Sarita Cargas, D.Phil. Oxford University, MA Theology Aquinas Institute of Theology, MA Psychology Georgetown, BA St. John’s College (ed. Encyclopedia of Holocaust Literature). My main research area is human rights, and I am currently writing a textbook on human rights. I have been teaching human rights for eight years (including in Geneva, Switzerland). Another interest is the pedagogy of critical thinking.