If someone was to ask us, “have you ever seen a monkey wearing a pink bikini and red lipstick?”, we’d probably say no.
But to come up with the “no”, here’s the mental process we usually follow. We imagine a monkey, a pink bikini, and red lipstick. Then we check, how “hard” was it to make this association in the head. If it required some mental effort to put it together, we assume that we have never seen this before. And so we say no.
If we were asked the same question 6 months later, “have you ever seen a monkey wearing a pink bikini and red lipstick?”, we may again say no.
Now, if someone asked the same question a year later, we’d do the same mental process. But this time, it will be somewhat “easier” to imagine a monkey in a pink bikini wearing red lipstick. The readiness with which we can “recall” this image will trick our mind into saying “maybe” or even “yes”.
You see, truth requires too much chemical energy to verify. So we have come up with shortcut strategies like “time to imagine”. They mostly work, but can be easily hijacked.
If someone wants to turn us against wind power, and they make the real claims like “it requires a lot of expensive storage”, then they are speaking to our intellectual brain (System II). But this brain often has too much inertia and is harder to influence. But if someone makes an audacious claim “wind noise causes cancer”, it goes to our intuitive brain (System I). This part of our brain has no defense mechanism and offers little barriers to influence. We can’t “unsee” things.
This is how opinions can be influenced. By introducing doubt and creating new associations in our heads. The more outrageous the claim, the further deeper into “enemy lines” it can travel.
We may blame Trump, but this also just shows he really knows how people’s minds work and how media works. The Washington Post, The Hill, Newsweek, are all “working” for him. Every news outlet is actually talking to this System II inside our head and doing Trump’s bidding.
Take your favorite publication and see how they have covered this story. See the headline. If the headline contains the word “cancer”, Trump has totally played them. I am sharing this as a response to his outrageous claim. In some ways I am being played too! I’m reinforcing the wrong association he wants us all to make. This is recursive, inception-type stuff 😂
A year from now, if someone were to ask us, “do windmills cause cancer”, our gut intuitive response might be “maybe”, until our intellectual mind will step in and correct us. Associations form very easily and are hard to undo. “Windmills do not cause cancer” still doesn’t undo anything. If anything, it also reinforces the association.