My reason for starting this blog, four years ago, was to help people come to terms with what science was saying and going to say about consciousness. What I see is people twisting themselves in knots in order to preserve a conscious mind, thinking and in control, rather than consciousness being a simple, partial and barely accurate awareness. Now I find that it may never be possible to completely lose the naïve psychology that we may be born with.
A paper by Shtulman and Valcarcel (citation below) argues that even though we know that the earth goes around the sun, we still have hidden away the idea that the sun goes around the earth. Their experiment takes a number of statements about astronomy, evolution, fractions, genetics, germs, matter, mechanics, physiology, thermodynamics, and waves, and asks if they are true. (For example, statements could be ‘the moon goes around the earth’, ‘the sun goes around the earth’.) The speed of answering and the accuracy were compared for statements that have the same validity both scientifically and naïvely, and statements were the validity is different. In all the subject categories the answers were slower and less accurate if there was dissonance between the scientific answer and the naïve one. I assume that neuroscience statements would give the same result, based on the ideas of teleological (design and purpose is found in all things) and animistic (all events are the product of animated intention) bias.
They (the findings) are, however, consistent with previous findings regarding the re-emergence of teleological thought and animistic thought under cognitive impairment or cognitive load. And they do not merely replicate those findings; they extend them across multiple domains of knowledge from the life sciences to the physical sciences to mathematics and across multiple concepts within those domains. Indeed, the consistency of the effect within and across domains suggests that it is not merely the byproduct of a few particularly resilient intuitions but is rather a domain-general consequence of conceptual restructuring.
So it seems when we learn (or discover) scientific knowledge it must replace naïve concepts. How this is done is probably very important.
Science educators are thus charged with two tasks: not only must they help students learn the correct, scientific theory at hand, but they must also help students unlearn their earlier, less accurate theories. Psychologists who have studied this process typically termed conceptual change have characterized the transition from naïve theories to scientific theories in several ways. Common to all characterizations is a commitment to knowledge restructuring, or the conversion of one conceptual system into another by radically altering the structure (and not just the content) of that system. Implicit in the idea of knowledge restructuring is the idea that early modes of thought, once restructured, should no longer be accessible, for the basic constituents of the earlier system are no longer represented.
But this study shows that that naïve system of understanding is still there, in the background, interfering and ready to come to the fore in old age and situations of confusion.
Given the nature of naïve psychology: present very early, very deep and associated with personal identity; it will be very difficult to shake the naïve in order to accept the scientific.
Shtulman, A., & Valcarcel, J. (2012). Scientific knowledge suppresses but does not supplant earlier intuitions Cognition DOI: 10.1016/j.cognition.2012.04.005