I’ve never been to South Korea. I’ve always wanted to go, and I’ve only ever heard incredible things about it. The Internet connection is supposed to be great and basically available everywhere you go – which is why I’m trying to convince Mike to open up a Stronger U – South Korea branch. But it’s not all about the Internet. I fell in love with Korean food while living in NYC, and as a shameless history nerd, there is so much to be explored in the culture and history of Korea.
Sounds like a solid place to visit, right? But one thing to keep in mind if you do go: be sure you don’t bring any fans.
In South Korea, it’s a long-held belief that desk fans, ceiling fans, and other oscillating fans are responsible for killing people.
Yep. You read that right. Fan death is a legitimate concern in South Korea.
Now, of course, this isn’t to say that each and every single South Korean citizen believes that fans live secret lives as murderous machines. Just like not everyone in America holds the same belief, not all South Koreans do either. Quite a few know that fan death isn’t actually a real thing. That wasn’t always the case though. Fan death was such a widespread belief that every single fan you buy in South Korea still comes with an automatic switch that shuts off the fan after a set period of time.
The common belief that fan death is real was so strong at one point that it actually changed the way fan manufacturers made their product.
This is what is known as the Common Belief Fallacy.
The common belief fallacy means that if the majority says something is true, you’re more likely to believe it. No matter how ridiculous it might be.
What are some examples of the common belief fallacy?
People used to believe the Earth was flat. Well, they used to and many people still do. Another group of people believed the Earth was the back of a giant turtle.
Aristotle is widely regarded as a pretty smart dude. Even Aristotle fell victim to the common belief fallacy. His error? He believed that if you left meat outside long enough, it generated new life. That new life? Maggots.
In modern times common belief fallacy is especially prevalent in the world of health and fitness.
One of the great examples of this in our own world is the idea that fat is the culprit for heart disease, obesity, high unemployment, and any other thing that goes wrong in the world. From the 1970’s up until the very recent past, it’s long been accepted as common knowledge that fat, save for a couple of exceptions, was all bad. Luckily, and sometimes unluckily, we’re not all so fat-phobic these days, but the low-fat guidelines were preached for nearly 40 years before anyone came along and made serious headway in proving how wrong those were.
(Where common belief fallacy gets really insidious is when it turns into our beliefs becoming actions that aren’t actually in line with our goals. One of the easiest ways to keep that in check? Continually referring back to The Consistency Checklist.)
The fitness industry is ripe with common belief fallacy. Maybe more so than any other industry out there, because the barrier of entry is so low in fitness. Anyone can start up a blog (much like this one), create a Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Youtube and start spouting out information. No matter how right or wrong it is.
Some other examples of common belief fallacy:
- Eating anywhere from 5-8 meals per day, every couple of hours is better for weight loss.
- Cleanses/Detoxes make you healthier.
- Sugar by itself is toxic.
- Protein takes a wrecking ball to your kidneys.
- Artifical sweeteners are killing you.
These are just a few examples of common belief fallacies that run rampant throughout the world of nutrition, and they’re things that many of us have fallen victim to at some point or another. Which, truthfully, is completely understandable. All of these things speak to a deep desire in all of us. They promise to help explain why nothing has ever worked before. They’re the secret we’ve always been missing. No matter who you are, as a person, thinking you’ve stumbled upon something like that can be all too inviting. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in that sort of thing.
That’s part of the reason why common belief fallacy is so hard to penetrate. The more you hear something, the more likely you are going to believe it’s true. If someone comes at you with a belief that runs contradictory, you’ll shun them and banish them from ever entering your brain.
Just because we hear something often, and thousands of people claim it to be true, does that really make it true? Hardly. One needs to just do a quick Google search for fake news to see how pervasive this phenomenon is in our world today.
When putting it this way, we know that just because more people say something is true, that doesn’t make it true. We preach this all the time. We can even think of individual examples where we’ve seen this acted out in real life. The trick is recognizing when it happens and guarding against it happening to us.
How do you guard against common belief fallacy?
I think the most important point we can all due to understand about this is that common belief fallacy is what it means to be a person. We all fall victim to this in every area of our life at some point or another. It’s virtually impossible not to. When we see a bunch of people agreeing about something, especially people we know, like, or trust, we’re implicitly more likely to believe those things.
But it’s also important to remember that it’s on us to do our due diligence to make sure that what we’re assigning that belief to is actually true. And in order to do that, I think one of the best things you can do is employ the very tool we were given to battle common belief fallacy: the scientific method.
Does that mean you need to go formulating a hypothesis on everything you ever hear, running experiments, and wearing a lab coat? Probably not. Though I certainly wouldn’t judge you if you wanted to adopt that approach. Science says it might actually make you smarter.
It means living a life of constantly pumping the mental breaks. Hear a claim that sounds really incredible? You better run that one through your own internal filter system to make sure it holds up. Your friend telling you about the diet pill they’ve had incredible results with? It’s probably wise to start thinking about all of the other things that friend might be doing along with it.
This also means that we have to be willing to pull a 180 every now and then and reverse course on some of the things we used to believe. That sort of thing tends to hurt the first few times we do it. Nobody likes to admit that they were wrong. It stings and it’s embarrassing. But it’s also where growth happens. It’s where we develop and become better versions of ourselves. Shedding old beliefs is akin to shedding a new skin. It’s a necessary process we have to go through, and the more we can work to go through that, the better.
But above all else, it does mean that there’s value in questioning things. It also means that there’s value in checking what your narrative about a certain topic is. Because if you don’t, how will you know if that narrative is actually serving you or not?