Neophobia and Argumentum ad Antiquitam #2

However, there is nothing in the age of a belief or tradition which makes it right inasmuch as people root their identity and the meaning of their life to their belief and tradition (for the lack of any other equally good or bad, or better formation as close as the one their life is based on to be their belief and tradition). Madsen Pirie succinctly summarizes the ad antiquitam tendency of the human mind:

At its simplest, the ad antiquitam is a habit which economizes on thought. It shows the way in which things are done, with no need for difficult decision-making. At its most elevated, it is a philosophy. Previous generations did it this way and they survived; so will we. The fallacy is embellished by talk of continuity and our contemplation of the familiar.

While the age of belief attests to experience, it does not attest to its truth. To equate older with better is to venture into the territory of the fallacy. After all, human progress is made by replacing the older with the better. Sometimes men do things in a particular way, or hold particular beliefs, for thousands of years. This does not make it right, any more than it makes it wrong (HWEA, 2006, p. 14).

Culture and tradition are not gifts or dispensation God gave humans in the beginning or dropped like cooked and packed manna from the sky in lots across the ages. Culture and tradition are a product of human’s creative and adaptive mind developed by trial and error over time, and being a product which takes after the maker’s creativity and adaptive needs, they inevitably undergo changes and modifications, because creativity differs from person to person and from age to age, and the social and natural environment humans have to adapt to changes constantly no matter how conservative the society may be and how slow the change may be. Over time, this gradual and piecemeal replacement of the old by the new has the ultimate effect of human’s complete dispensation with their forefathers’ caves and stone tools for modern homes, computers, cars, gas stoves, etc., while all this happens so slowly and quietly that the series of changes feels more or less smooth and seamless except at the points marked by revolutions that suddenly introduce a whole new set of values and modes of life, such as the French Revolution, the English Civil Wars, the American Revolution, the Declaration of Emancipation, and the Arab Spring, etc.

Ad antiquitam is often mutually intensifying with man’s tendency to be what Fiske and Taylor (1991) term cognitive miser. As opposed to a naïve scientist who rationally weigh costs and benefits, test hypothesis, and update expectations based upon the results of the experiments that are our everyday actions, a cognitive miser tends to intuitively conserve mental process energy and spend it only when they must, relying on simpler, economically prudent and time efficient strategies when evaluating information and making decisions not just about familiar things but about both issues and ideas they know very little about and those of great importance. In this process, the cognitive miser, rather than rationally and objectively evaluating, uses mental short cuts—they assign new information to simplistic, preconceived categories that are easy to process mentally. These categories arise from prior information, including schemas, scripts and other knowledge structures, that has been stored in memory and thus the processing and storage of new information does not require much cognitive energy. The cognitive miser, thus, tends not to stray far from his or her established beliefs when considering new information (Fiske & Taylor, Social Cognition, 1991).

Though humans are motivated tacticians—having multiple cognitive strategies available and choosing among them depending on the situational and motivational demands (Fiske & Taylor, 1991); that is, they are simultaneously naïve scientists and cognitive misers in varying degrees, and they shift from quick and easy cognitively economic tactics of a cognitive miser to more effortful, thoughtful and thorough ones of a naïve scientist when processing information as their motivation deems necessary—they are typically more inclined to act as cognitive misers. This is because “people typically do not consciously choose between automatic and controlled processes;” rather “[a]utomatic processes influence the motivations that trigger social cognition, as well as behavior that results” (Fiske & Taylor, 2013, p. 31). While acting as cognitive misers is rational, as Fiske and Taylor argue, considering the intimidating volume and intensity of information humans intake, the decision and judgement thus reached are more likely to exhibit attributional biases. In fact, psychologists and social scientists now associate cognitive miserliness with racist and gender biases and other issues of stereotyping.


Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social Cognition (2nd ed.). NY, USA: McGraw-Hill.
Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (2013). Social Cognition: From Brains to Culture (2nd ed.). London, United Kingdom: Sage.
Pirie, M. (2006). How to Win Every Argument: The Use and Abuse of Logic. NY, USA: Continuum.


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