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88-307 Principles of Individual and Collective Irrationality
The course begins with a survey of selected topics in Pseudoscience and the Paranormal (the title of the first textbook, by Terrance Hines). We then discuss cognitive principles that help explain: *How We Know What Isn't So* (the title of the second textbook, by Thomas Gilovich) and read a number of papers and a book chapter about the role of social support and consensus in forming and maintaining belief. The course then focuses on two specific belief systems: Nazism, and belief in cannibalism and child sexual abuse by organized satanists in this country in recent years. The Nazism section is based on accounts by some Nazis themselves: Rudolf Hess, the major Commandant at Auschwitz (his autobiography), and Ordinary Men (title of Christopher Browning's book) of Order Police Battalion 101, middle-aged men who volunteered for police work to help the war effort and ended up implementing the final solution in Poland. The satanic cult beliefs are covered in a number of journal articles, magazine write-ups, and a Frontline PBS presentation Each class period will be led by a student or by a pair of students and by Dawes. Finally, each student will pick an irrational belief system other than Nazism or satanic cult belief to study and analyze. Reviews of this belief system will be due approximately 60% of the way through the semester, and a final paper analyzing its cognitive and social supports will be due at the end. That final paper, with a class presentation, will be required in lieu of a final examination. Depending on the number of students in the course, these final projects may or may not be discussed with the other students in class. In contrast to the reviews and papers, three hour-long quizzes will concentrate mainly on factual matters, so that we can be assured that all materials covered are known by all.
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