Resisting change

I was listening to the Sceptics Guide the Universe this morning, a pod cast that I recommend to anyone interested in increasing their critical thinking skills.

Steven Novella, the host, was talking about the PANDAS Controversy, where a hypothesis was taken on board by the community before the evidence existed to create a theory or a disproof. Quite interesting talk.

It prompted me to wonder – why do we become invested in an idea such that we resist reasonable evidence that the idea is faulty? I have caught myself doing this on any number of occasions, where my pet idea either fails to have any supportive evidence, or the supportive evidence is demonstrated to be either faulty or not as secure as I thought. I immediately want to invalidate the criticising evidence rather than actually test the validity of this evidence and my pet idea. (Normally I would use the phrase ‘pet theory’, but a theory is an idea/hypothesis with good supporting evidence, and some of my idea’s don’t have that).

In the lack of actual evidence, it is fine to speculate on any number of causes or contributing factors. It is even fine to assume these speculations hold water. Yet when evidence exists that disputes these ideas, we should let the idea go in favour of the evidence. Yet as a species we don’t. Otherwise evolution and science based medicine would be the unquestioned status quo, while pseudo science, alternative medicines and religion would be gone.

Is this a cognitive dissonance merged with constructive laziness issue? We have our own idea vs the evidence. They can’t both be right, so we modify the evidence to seem faulty rather than put the work into re-evaluating the world based on new evidence.

Or is there something else?