Delusions: an unaffordable luxury

A definition of delusion is "A false belief held despite strong evidence against it"; another is "An unshakable belief in something untrue"; another "A belief that is not true : a false idea". Note the similarity between delusion and faith – the latter is the belief in something in spite of a lack of convincing evidence.

Some common delusions that I deal with on these pages concern:

  • Religion: beliefs, with a complete lack of supporting evidence, in spirits or gods;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that we have an immortal part, a soul that will go on when our bodies die;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that divination can be used to find things, water in particular;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that wind turbines cause illness;
  • The belief, against all the evidence, that climate change is not happening or is not largely caused by the actions of Mankind (anthropogenic climate change, ACC);
  • Belief in 'alternative medicine'. Basically 'alternative medicine' is any form of treatment lacking evidence of efficacy. Compare this to 'scientific medicine' which is supported by evidence of efficacy.
  • Belief in Ley Lines
Written 2015/11/09, last edited 2021/12/18
Contact: David K. Clarke – ©


Introductory remarks

 
Climate change is impacting Australia now
Dam fix
Kangaroo Creek dam, South Australia
The wall was raised by four metres and the spillway was being widened by 40 metres due to increasingly heavy flood flows in the Torrens River.
Photo 2017/02/25
In the early twenty-first century our planet is suffering from many serious threats, a number of which could end the current global civilisation or greatly damage the diversity of life on the planet. We need to approach these problems rationally. Delusions such as those listed above, that distract people from rational thought, are luxuries that human society cannot afford.

Related pages on this site:



 
This section added
2021/05/28

Why should we act to expose and eliminate delusions?

Delusional beliefs have caused and continue to cause great harm.

Of particular concern in the early twenty-first century are the delusions that climate change isn't happening, or that it is not caused by humanity, or that we can't do anything about it.


A 'delusion of the moment' in Australia - at the time of writing, late May 2021 - is that vaccination with the most readily available Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccine is too dangerous to have. The only way we are going to stop this pandemic is to achieve herd immunity and the only ways to get herd immunity are either:
  • to allow the disease to run its course, making a great many people very sick, some with long-lasting impacts to their health, and killing perhaps 2% of the world's population;
  • or by vaccination of a large proportion of humanity.
At the time of writing, in Australia, 3.6 million people have had their first vaccination, the great majority of which were Astra-Zeneca; one person has died due to blood clotting likely associated with the vaccination (see TGA weekly safety report). We are going to continue having outbreaks and the virus will continue to mutate until we get it under control. Vaccination is clearly the reasonable course.
 
A small part of an Australian wind farm
Wind turbines
Surprisingly many Australian people were taken in by the absurd delusion that wind turbines like these caused heath problems.
A delusion that has been of particular concern to me, one that seems to have run its course, was that wind turbines harm human and animal health. At the time the delusion had its strongest grip, about 2010-2014, wind farms were being built in my region more than elsewhere in Australia. I was - and are still - very concerned about climate change and consequently very much in favour of replacing fossil fuels with clean renewable energy such as wind and solar, so I campaigned against the delusion (see wind turbines and health).
Perhaps the most harmful delusions of the past (and that are continuing today) are the beliefs in the supernatural: gods, spirits, demons, angels and an immortal soul. These things simply do not exist. They are imaginary. Yet people have argued, fought and killed each other over them for thousands of years.

Some people say that we should respect the beliefs of others. I have to disagree; we should respect their freedom to believe whatever they feel justified in believing, but when the beliefs are delusional we should feel free to disagree and, as appropriate, politely point out their errors. Respect is not something that comes as a right, it must be earned and/or deserved.

A case in point: the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, follows the Pentecostal Church. He seems to believe that it is a part of God's plan that the earth should be damaged by climate change and that he is playing a part in this plan. Perhaps he sees it as a step toward Armageddon? How could anyone respect such a belief?


 

Aborigine

At the time of writing it seems to be politically incorrect to refer to 'First Nations' peoples of Australia as 'Aborigines'. The word 'Aborigine' is defined as "a person, animal, or plant that has been in a country or region from earliest times". The Australian 'First Nations' people are people who have been in a Australia from earliest times, so it makes sense to refer to them as Aborigines.
At the time of writing it has become fashionable to respect the culture and beliefs of Australian Aborigines. This seems to be a reaction against the undoubted injustices against Aborigines in the past including the assumption that their beliefs and 'religion' were inferior to the Christian religion. Perhaps there is now something of an acceptance that there is no more basis for much of Christian beliefs than there is for Aboriginal beliefs.

The Adnyamathanha people (the local traditional Aboriginal owners in the Flinders Ranges of South Australia) have requested that people not climb Saint Mary Peak. I have not heard any reason for the request, other than that the peak is significant in Aboriginal Dreamtime stories.

Should the mythical beliefs, totally lacking in evidentiary support, of a few limit the freedom of all? I think not. I have written more on this aspect of delusions elsewhere on these pages.


In conclusion: we should be companionate toward all other life on Earth, including humans; we should give people the respect that they deserve, but we should not respect delusional beliefs. We should do what we can to educate people out of their delusions.


Belief without evidence and belief against the evidence

Belief without evidence

The belief in a God or gods is unsupported by any evidence. I cannot point to any evidence that there are no gods; there could be a god who takes no part in things that happen in our Universe. Bertrand Russell compared the belief in god to a hypothetical belief that there is a teapot in orbit around the Sun out beyond Jupiter. We have no evidence for or against either.

Belief against the evidence

The belief that climate change is not happening or that it may be happening but not largely caused by Mankind is a belief opposed to the evidence. There is a huge amount of evidence that anthropogenic climate change is a fact.

A few people believe that wind turbines cause illness. There is a great deal of evidence indicating that they do not and can not. I have argued that it makes just as much sense to believe that street trees cause illness.

Many people believe that underground water can be found by walking around with a forked stick or a couple of bent wires. There is ample evidence showing that water divining (or water witching) is nonsense.

There are no absolute proofs in science (outside of mathematics)

However, it is not possible to absolutely prove anything in science, 'science proves nothing', but it can show very good reason for accepting or rejecting many beliefs.


Duration of delusions

Religions have been with us for unknown thousands of years, evolving and changing over that time. Divination for water and precious metals and stones has too; at least since Roman times, but perhaps not changing greatly over the years.

On the other hand technological delusions, such as those around electromagnetic fields, mobile phones and wind turbine syndrome (WTS) come and largely go in a few years following the introduction of the relevant technologies. 'wind turbine syndrome' was invented in 2009 and had pretty much run its course by 2014.



Delusion and faith

Faith has been defined as "strong belief in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual conviction rather than proof" and "firm belief in something for which there is no proof". Religious faith is only a specific form of delusion.


 
This section added 2019/04/01

Alternative medicine

The Oxford online dictionary defines 'alternative medicine' as "Any of a range of medical therapies that are not regarded as orthodox by the medical profession, such as herbalism, naturopathy, and crystal healing."

 

A quote from Wikipedia
2021/03/30

"Naturopathic practitioners generally recommend against following modern medical practices, including but not limited to medical testing, drugs, vaccinations, and surgery."

I wonder how many Naturopaths and users of naturopathy will refuse vaccination for COVID-19?

Modern orthodox medicine is based on science, alternative medicine is not.

Much of alternative medicine is simply ineffectual, but some is harmful. One of the great problems associated with alternative medical practice is that people using it often postpone seeking legitimate medical help until the problem condition becomes much more serious.

Perhaps the best point of alternative medical practice is that the practitioners often give much more time to the sufferer than do general practitioners. This give the patients a feeling that they are being listened to and sympathised with. This has placebo value.

Wikipedia (2019/04/01) was less kind in its summarising of alternative medicine than the dictionary definition. It provided the following:

"Alternative medicine, fringe medicine, pseudomedicine or simply questionable medicine is the promotion or use of practices which are unproven, disproven, impossible to prove, or excessively harmful in relation to their effect – in an attempt to achieve the healing effects of medicine. It differs from experimental medicine in that the latter employs responsible and ethical investigation. Practitioners of science-based medicine also discard practices and treatments when they are shown ineffective, while alternative practitioners do not. The scientific consensus is that alternative therapies either do not, or cannot, work. In some cases laws of nature are violated by the basic claims of alternative medicine's practitioners; in other cases the alternative treatment can be so much more detrimental to the patient that its use is unethical."
According to the author of ScienceBasedMedicine, 2019/04/01, an alternative medicine group produced a petition asking Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales to create and enforce new policies that “allow for true scientific discourse about holistic approaches to healing." Mr Wales' reply included the following:
"Wikipedia’s policies around this kind of thing are exactly spot-on and correct. If you can get your work published in respectable scientific journals – that is to say, if you can produce evidence through replicable scientific experiments, then Wikipedia will cover it appropriately. What we won’t do is pretend that the work of lunatic charlatans is the equivalent of “true scientific discourse”. It isn’t."
While I probably wouldn't call most practitioners of naturopathy 'lunatic charlatans' the important point is that naturopathy is not science-based or evidence-based (which is much the same thing).



Ley Lines

 
"Confluence of the Mary and Michael 'Rivers of Energy' (Ley lines)
Confluence!
At Willow Springs in South Australia's Flinders Ranges
Click on the image to see in high definition.
Photographed using my Mavic Mini drone on 2020/03/29
I'll simply quote from the Willow Springs Information Guide (I will say that everything else about Willow Springs and our stay there was very satisfactory and enjoyable)...

"Energy that is light years away
Willow Springs is the site of a confluence of the Mary and Michael 'Rivers of Energy' (Ley lines) similar to the confluence that exists on Glastonbury Tor in the UK. This has been confirmed through 'Dowsing' by the President of the Adelaide Dowsers Club in 1999, after an 8 pointed Star Medicine Wheel had been laid over this 'confluence' area with local stones. Visitors of a Spiritual inclination can work with the energies of this 'confluence' in meditation. A Special 'Trinity' (Triangular) labyrinth has also been laid out for people to walk. All Labyrinths, of whatever shape, are designed to lead people to the 'Centre' of themselves. We are given to understand from those who have 'tuned in' and worked with the energies of this particular area of the property, that the Etheric Arcturian Crystal and an Etheric 'Sound' Pyramid are also present, making this a significant energy Vortex area. You are welcome to visit the and use them if you wish to meditated and connect to your deepest self. Feel free to enjoy in Joy and Love."

If you can take that stuff seriously I fear that there is little hope for you.

I've written on dowsing (or divining) and more on our visit to Willow Springs on other pages on this site.



Biodynamics

One of the basic principles, I believe, of 'biodynamic agriculture' is planting according to the phases of the Moon.

What effects does the Moon have on the Earth? The Moon provides some light at night and due to its gravitation it is the main cause of the tides (the Sun has a smaller effect on the tides). It is difficult to imagine how the Moon could significantly impact plant growth.

The light direct from the Sun is about 500,000 times as intense as the light from the full Moon. The quarter Moon provides no more than a quarter of the light of the full Moon. Compared to the light the Earth receives from the Sun, Moon light is negligible.

The tides are caused because the Moon's gravitational pull on the side of the Earth that is nearer to it is slightly greater than the pull on the far side of the Earth.

In regard to biodynamics, how powerful is the Moon's pull at the surface of the Earth compared to the Earth's own gravity? Gravitational force depends on the mass of the bodies involved and the distance from them. The Earth is about 81 times the mass of the Moon. A person standing on the surface of the Earth is about 6,400km from the centre of mass of the planet and about 380,000km from the centre of mass of the Moon.

The force of gravity is proportional to the product of the masses involved and inversely proportional to the square of the distances between the bodies. So the force of the Earth's gravity on someone standing on the surface of the planet relative to the force of the Moon's gravity would be proportional to 1 : 1 / (81 × (6,4002 / 380,0002)). This equals 1 : 0.0000035. Putting it another way, the Earth's gravitational pull on a plant would be about 286,000 times as great as the Moon's gravitational pull.

So in summary, the Moon's effects on a plant on the surface of the Earth could only come from the Moon's light (which would, on average, be much less 1/500,000th that of light from the Sun) and the Moon's gravitational pull (which would be 1/286,000th that of the Earth).

Given this, how could anyone place any credence in the theory that the phases of the Moon have a significant impact on plant growth?

Finally, if planting according to the phases of the Moon had significant effects on plant growth and success wouldn’t we find that they timed things like flowering, dropping leaves, dropping seed, etcetera to moon phase; but we don’t. It would be easy to demonstrate the link between plants growth and Moon phases scientifically, but where is the research confirming the theory?
 




 
This section added
2021/12/18

Climate change

Denial of the clear facts of climate change and climate science seems largely to be another form of delusion.

Of course there are those whose deny climate science because it is to their advantage to do so; perhaps they are paid to do it or they rely on the fossil fuel industries for their income, etcetera. These people may be deluded, more likely they are simply dishonest.

There is plentiful strong evidence that climate change is real, it is largely being caused by the actions of humanity, and that climate science is just as much a valid and respectable science as any other. I have written a dedicated page on why we should all accept the reality of climate change and the veracity of climate science.

Also see my page on science denial and climate change.



 
This section added
2021/12/18

COVID vaccination

At the time of writing this section delusional thinking about COVID vaccination was widespread in Australia and probably around the world.

Considering the millions of lives that have been saved by vaccinations over the last several hundred years, and especially in my lifetime, I've found the unfounded fear and mistrust of COVID vaccination puzzling in the extreme. There is probably little point in me expanding on the delusions about the COVID pandemic and COVID vaccination here when there are plenty of other sites that can be referred to, such as COVID: Top 10 current conspiracy theories, written by Mark Lynas for Alliance for Science.

 

A more accurate name for WTS?

I have written on another page on this site about whether Pierpont-Laurie Syndrome might be a more appropriate name for the delusion that wind turbines cause illness than wind turbine syndrome. It was primarily Nina Pierpont and Sarah Laurie who spread the delusion.
It struck me a few weeks back that the irrational fear of COVID vaccination has a lot in common with the fear of 'wind turbine syndrome' (WTS), the delusion that wind turbines could make people sick. WTS ran its course between about 2010 and 2014. No one would take WTS seriously any more, it was a form of epidemic hysteria. (First Dog on the Moon produced a cartoon representing all the diseases and symptoms blamed on wind turbines.)

I suspect that in ten years everyone will similarly look back on the fear of COVID vaccination as just a foolish idea that spread among the less well informed of the population for a time.


 




Religion and the definition of delusion

The Free (medical) Dictionary starts its definition of delusion with "A delusion is an unshakable belief in something untrue. These irrational beliefs defy normal reasoning, and remain firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them." It goes on to specifically exclude "culturally or religiously based beliefs that may be seen as untrue by outsiders".

Others, outside of the medical profession, have tried to confine delusion to this narrow definition too, I suspect simply because they do not want to have the term apply to religious beliefs.

Psychiatric delusion and general delusion

The above definition of delusion is suitable for the psychiatric form of delusion, but delusion certainly exists in the wider world too; why should irrational religious "beliefs that defy normal reasoning and remain firm even when overwhelming proof is presented to dispute them" be excluded from being delusional? (The belief in an immortal soul can be shown to be such a delusion.)

I was brought up to believe in god. At the same time I was taught to not be superstitious. It was only later that I realised that religions and superstitions were indistinguishable and that both were delusional.

Religion and superstition might not fit the medical definition of delusion, but they are delusional by any purely rational definition.





Related pages

On external sites...

Wikipedia, Naturopathy

Wikipedia, Acupuncture

Wikipedia, chiropractic

Related pages on this site...

The concept of an immortal soul can be shown to be absurd.

Long range weather forecasts that were broadcast on South Australia's ABC radio - no better than random guesses.

The problem and prevalence of ignorance

Rationality, not strong in humans

Religion, superstitions and pseudoscience

Science, religion, delusion

Self deception

Water divining