In evaluating any claim, anecdotes don’t count. All the evidence we adduce has to be guaranteed kosher—untainted by confirmation bias, not driven by the placebo effect, free of the million other mistakes we make when we try to comprehend the world with our fallible, meaning-hungry minds.
This is why we can’t count evidence that comes from personal anecdotes rather than rigorous studies with the proper scientific controls. It may sound a bit harsh, but adding personal anecdotes filtered through our cognitive biases is just adding zeros.
In service of understanding the world, psychology is wedded to the principle that if it isn’t supported by systematic evidence or isn’t really required to do the explanatory work, we just don’t need it. As Douglas Adams once wistfully remarked, “Isn’t it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?”
If our goal grasping true, we should leave the phantoms and the wishful thinking aside. We don’t need them, and we’ll be fine without them. There’s more than enough majesty and awe in the world.
Laith Al-Shawaf, Ph.D., is an associate professor of psychology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs.