Truthiness and Fake News

How do we determine what is true? What role do emotions play in our acquisition of knowledge?

In this clip from 2005, Stephen Colbert coins his phrase, “truthiness” which to some degree portended the coming of “fake news” and its pervasiveness a decade later.

Facts are believable and “true if they “feel” true. This also lends itself to a discussion of the role of emotion in the acquisition of knowledge.

Screen Shot 2018-10-05 at 10.52.11 AM

‘If you think you know everything, you can’t learn anything’

When students come into Dan Levitin’s lab, he spends most of his time trying to teach them that they don’t know everything they think they do. “Knowledge can only be created in an environment where we’re open to the possibility that we’re wrong,” he says. Levitin shares his humble opinion on the best way to help students.

What makes a thing, a thing? What makes you, you? Broken axes and the Ship of Theseus.

The Ship of Theses is an ancient story that raises profound philosophical questions about the nature of identity. This TED Ed video does a nice job summarizing the story and the issues it raises.


A similar issue is raised in the movie, John Dies in the End.

Here is a lesson plan designed around the second clip.

“What is an axe” Lesson Plan



Two articles on why we have trouble adopting new ideas

Why bad ideas refuse to die

“They may have been disproved by science or dismissed as ridiculous, but some foolish beliefs endure. In theory they should wither away – but it’s not that simple”

“Many ideas have been brilliantly upgraded or repurposed for the modern age, and their revival seems newly compelling. Some ideas from the past, on the other hand, are just dead wrong and really should have been left to rot. When they reappear, what is rediscovered is a shambling corpse. These are zombie ideas. You can try to kill them, but they just won’t die. And their existence is a big problem for our normal assumptions about how the marketplace of ideas operates.

“The phrase “marketplace of ideas” was originally used as a way of defending free speech. Just as traders and customers are free to buy and sell wares in the market, so freedom of speech ensures that people are free to exchange ideas, test them out, and see which ones rise to the top. Just as good consumer products succeed and bad ones fail, so in the marketplace of ideas the truth will win out, and error and dishonesty will disappear.”

Personal beliefs versus scientific innovation: getting past a flat Earth mentality

“Almost by definition, the most important and innovative scientific findings often go against people’s existing beliefs. If research that conforms to personal beliefs is favored, then any research that is based on new ideas runs the risk of being passed over. It takes a leap to imagine a round Earth when everyone’s always believed it to be flat.”

Why People “Fly from Facts”

“Research shows the appeal of untestable beliefs, and how it leads to a polarized society

“As public debate rages about issues like immunization, Obamacare, and same-sex marriage, many people try to use science to bolster their arguments. And since it’s becoming easier to test and establish facts—whether in physics, psychology, or policy—many have wondered why bias and polarization have not been defeated. When people are confronted with facts, such as the well-established safety of immunization, why do these facts seem to have so little effect?”