Nightmares run on Scary Logic. In a nightmare, that moving shadow turns out to be a fast predatory monster. That noise behind you? It’s something that is about to attack. You turn to run but your legs won’t work. The fire is spreading but you can’t reach the water. In any situation, the scariest possibility you consider is what ends up happening next. This is Scary Logic.
According to Scary Logic, anything that is scary is true.
When scared, you imagine scary things. Scary Logic tells you to treat those scary things as real and true. These new terrible facts redouble your level of fear. You imagine scarier things still, and they too become real. This cycle builds until the picture is plainly nonsense to an outside observer.
That nonsense situation is so aligned to (and built out of) the mental state of the person imagining it that it seems completely plausible to them. They don’t notice a disconnect from reality. In a nightmare, you don’t stop and think that monsters don’t exist. You are not operating on normal logic - you’re operating on Scary Logic.
Some (but likely not all1) conspiracy theories rely on Scary Logic.
Vaccines and diseases are scary; powerful people who do things you can’t control are scary. According to normal logic, powerful people and diseases are unrelated. According to Scary Logic, the powerful people made up the disease to control you (scary). Scary Logic, taking that as a fact to now build upon, goes a step further and tells you that the vaccine is actually to implant microchips to track you (even scarier).
Normal logic says that if the powerful wanted to track you, the cell phone you already carry would do a much better job. But Scary Logic doesn’t see objections or weight evidence. Scary logic just confirms the scary as true.
Someone making a claim that confirms a Scary Logic result will seem trustworthy. Those who disagree are ill-informed, lying, or brainwashed, says Scary Logic. A single voice proclaiming that things are Even Scarier sounds more knowledgeable and authoritative than ten thousand experienced people with more measured takes on the matter.
Scary Logic may not provide a line of reasoning for how one knows the scary things are true, but that’s no problem. When confronted with the need to explain the Scary Truth to someone else, people automatically find reasoning that, if not convincing, is at least hard to quickly poke holes in. Coming up with reasons for what we believe is such an automatic process that it’s hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg.
There’s no shortage of scary things in the world: natural disasters, accidental disasters, diseases, wars, totalitarian governments, terrorists, and more. While normal logic acknowledges that these are scary and bad and leaves it at that, Scary Logic instead uses them as merely a starting point for telling a grand story about how things are even worse. Some minor but poignant evil becomes the cornerstone of a certainty that the world is becoming morally bankrupt.
One way to combat Scary Logic is to learn the underlying mechanics of how things work. When you don’t know the properties of something, any scary idea will sound plausible. Knowing what is and is not actually possible allows you to quickly reject the ideas from Scary Logic when they start to disconnect from reality.
Learning more about what an mRNA vaccine does can help you evaluate statements like “it edits your DNA2.” Airplanes are less scary when you know how they are tested and read the statistics about their safety. The crazy nuts on the Other side of the political spectrum are less scary when you realize that the news seeks out the most inflammatory figures they can find (not a representative average), and when you think back to how many people like that you actually meet in real life. Hard statistics are the enemy of knee-jerk fearful reactions.
As a parting word of caution: beware of media that uses Scary Logic to get viewership. It is unfortunately a very effective technique.