One of the interesting things about teaching introductory physics students is the weird mistakes they make.
For instance, many people come to class with the preconception that acceleration goes in the same direction as velocity. You define velocity, and you define acceleration, and they see that they're different.
Then you draw a graph of position vs time and ask which way it's accelerating. "That way," they say, and they point in the direction of velocity. "So... the velocity is increasing in this direction over time?" Confused stares. Mumbled answers. The answer is clearly "no," but doesn't that contradict their previous answer?
Later, we do a simple hands-on lab, with a cart on a track. We tilt the track. If we push up the cart and let it go, which way is it accelerating as it goes up? Which way is it accelerating when it stops at the top? And when it comes down again? It's clearly changing direction... right, Mr. Miller?
When the track is flat, I ask them to show how they pushed the cart to give it positive acceleration. They give a short and sharp push and let it roll freely. See, acceleration!
After all this has been corrected, I ask them why it is we think acceleration is in the same direction as velocity. Nobody knows. I say, "I don't know either; I study physics, not psychology."
It's hard for me to sympathize, because I don't remember ever making this kind of mistake. Maybe I just don't remember it. But I sure didn't make the mistake repeatedly, having to relearn the same lesson every time the context changes just a little.
In my pedagogy class, we are learning a bit about the cognitive psychology of the naive conceptions brought in by introductory physics students. We are learning what they are, where they come from, and most importantly, how to deal with them as teachers.
Don't expect me to blog much about this psychology stuff. I'm quite aware that we only really scrape the surface, to practical ends.
But I will say that this sounds an awful lot like skepticism. Skepticism is all about the strange things people believe, where they come from, and how to deal with them. Skepticism is a lot like teaching.
The difference is that the subjects of skepticism are often hostile to it, and skeptics are not in any position of authority. Come to think of it, this is a really huge difference. As a physicist would say, this can't be modeled as a small perturbation. Maybe skepticism is nothing like teaching after all.