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Conspiracy Theories, Why Some People Believe Them

By Hilda Scott , May 22, 2013 03:22 PM EDT
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Conspiracy theories trace back through history and will always exist, as long as human beings can be influenced. There are a number of reasons why people believe in even some of the wildest conspiracy ideas that don't even appear to be rational.

One conspiracy theory surrounding the music industry is that many musicians are part of a secret cult known as "The Illuminati" that intend to take over the world with their New World Order. It's also believed that in exchange for wealth and power, many artists have sold their souls to the devil so that they may spend on their days on Earth lavished with material luxuries. Many people who believe the Illuminati conspiracy theory believe that many artists including Beyonce, Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West are involved in the secret society. 

So why do people believe conspiracy theories? It's human nature to believe in certain ideas at all costs. The phenomenon known as "motivated reasoning", which suggests that people feel better when they think that they're right. Motivated reasoning refers to when people develop and cling to false beliefs no matter what. Instead of rationally seeking information that confirms or debunks certain beliefs, people actually only seek out what confirms what they are determined to believe.

The Beatles were also accused of being mind controllers for the Illuminati and would use subliminal messages to brainwash people. Conspiracy theorists believe that subliminal messages are included in many songs and the cryptic messages can be deciphered when played backwards. Many of the Beatles' album covers were also said to feature visual subliminal messages connected to the Illuminati. 

According to New York University cognitive psychologist, Gary Marcus, people reject evidence that may contradict their own beliefs due the emotional investment in that idea. Marcus said smokers are a good example of this, although people have known about the dangers of cigarettes, they find reasons to justify smoking. In the 1960's, when the reports about the dangers of cigarettes were announced by the Surgeon General, non-smokers agreed that cigarettes could cause lung cancer. Instead of accepting the dangers, smokers were eager to refer to other things that can kill you, how some smokers lived long lives and that smoking had other benefits.

Marcus argues that the human mind is flawed in design. Motivated reasoning makes people feel good about themselves for that moment, but in the long term it reinforces poor reasoning skills, leading to conflict.

"We're pretty much all by default tending to notice things that fit with our theories," Marcus said. "I think it's a bug. We can't search our memories for negatives. In a society where everyone gets a vote, when our brains work this way, it leads to gridlock."

In actuality, the Illuminati is said to have been founded in Germany in 1776 and was a secret society of the Enlightenment Age, of the 17th and 18th centuries. This was a cultural movement of intellectuals challenging ideas of tradition and faith. The age of enlightenment, sometimes called the age of reason, supported scientific thought and skepticism. It opposed superstitious beliefs, intolerance and the abuse of power by church and state officials.

The Illuminati movement consisted of freethinkers that believed opinions were to be formed using logic and reasoning and not authority or traditional values. It also advocated secularism, liberalism, republicanism and gender equality. Conspiracy theorists in the late 18th century accused the Illuminati of orchestrating the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror. It was thought that the illuminati planned to start a revolutionary wave in the whole world to spread their ideas of the enlightenment age to create a world noocracy which philosopher and mathematician Plato defined as a social and political system that is "based on the priority of the human mind".

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