Ever wonder how some people get caught up in conspiracy theories or quack remedies or other crazy beliefs with no basis in reality?

Collective delusions are far more common than you think; and sometimes far more mundane than you might expect. Take the 1954 windshield pitting epidemic for example…


This is far from a new phenomenon and clearly can operate entirely separate from news or social media.

Charles Mackay's 1841 book 'Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds' documents a wide variety of such collective delusions throughout history.


Do you think yourself immune to such disordered thinking? I'm of the opinion none of us are–we might not fall for one collective delusion because it doesn't fit our prejudices, while being primed for another.

The thing is, there's an obvious takeaway from this human failure mode – yet I hesitate to bring it up because it can seem like (or operate as the seed for) yet another conspiracy theory. So, grains of salt and all that – OK?

Consider the possibility someone has studied this phenomenon with the specific intent of using it for political or monetary gain. Are there ways to craft a narrative designed to produce a significant stochastic response in a cohort of people vulnerable to that message?


And have intentional public delusions already been weaponized and deployed by unknown (or known) actors?

And, if such a thing is already part of our social landscape, how long ago did it begin?

FYI: What I'm talking about here is to ordinary propaganda or advertising what bloodletting is to heart surgery. Something targeted and effective, at least in the short term.

After all, people remain as fickle and individual as snowflakes. As Mackay says: "Men, it has been well said, think in herds; it will be seen that they go mad in herds, while they only recover their senses slowly, and one by one."

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