Saturday, May 11, 2013

How We Lie to Ourselves


I find that general systems of logic work for most people. The problem, is that people seek out information only to destroy it. I have seen this work in a several ways. There are those people who see what they want to see. Then we have the people who actively ignore evidence. Then there are the people who are willfully ignorant, when we explain to them, what logical fallacies are and why they are bad – no matter how easy it is to understand, we know the individual has the IQ to get it – they actively choose not to get it.

Self-deception has a psychological advantage. It makes the person feel good. Self-deception occurs because we want to feel good, and deception can help us do that. At first glance, we realize that self-deception has the great advantage of making us feel warm and fuzzy inside. Sometimes, self-deception gives us feelings of meaning and purpose, feelings that are otherwise missing in our lives.

Lying to ourselves has costs, even when those costs are not immediately felt. When we base conscience decisions on falsehoods, in many situations this can turn around and bite us. We see the consequences when waging offensive, ridiculous wars based upon the fact we deluded ourselves into thinking that country has weapons of mass destruction and in cahoots with Bin Laden. It is seen more often in romantic disasters – when we date a mentally ill/alcoholic/abusive person, and delude ourselves into thinking that the person is really good deep down. Time and again, alienating ourselves from reality has costs – huge costs.

Censoring Input

Humans commonly seek out publications that mirror or support their prior views and largely avoid those that don’t. If I see an article discussing befits of higher education, you bet that I am going to read it. If I see a YouTube video from some person talking about why they think it is a waste of time to get a Bachelor’s degree, you bet I will ignore it. This is my bias working.
Some people avoid taking an HIV test because they would rather not know. The person feels happier and more secure being ignorant about their HIV status. We all know the huge costs this carries for society.

Attending Input

When we do allow input to enter our brains, we must wrestle with other cognitive biases. Confirmation bias is the one I am most accustomed to experiencing in myself and in others. People actively seek out, and focus their attention on things that conform to their beliefs rather than negate their beliefs. This in itself has nothing to do with deceit or deception.

Biased Memory

We more easily remember positive information about ourselves than negative. It feels good – doesn’t it. When I was twelve years old, my grandmother was complaining about bad things other family members did to her. She boasted a story about how her son-in-law commented that she was right about something. Grandma told that story more times than I can remember. I turned to my grandmother, and asked a question I should not have asked her, “Grandma, can you tell me a story when you were wrong about something?” Let me just say – this did not end well.
People remember their children being better, smarter and more talented than they actually were. People remember themselves being smarter, better and more talented than they really were. Examine the present, just go to YouTube and examine the comments. It is amazing how many people think they are so wonderful, intelligent, and most importantly – RIGHT. How many people really know themselves, or pay attention to how often they are wrong about things?

Brokaw / Vidal Interview

Memories are not photos, nor are they videos. Memories are degraded over time, enhanced by the emotions that shape our words, words that shape our thoughts, memories are easily degraded.
One can even reverse exactly who is saying what to whom. Tom Brokaw, on NBC’s Today Show interviewed Gore Vidal, insisting that Vidal answer questions about his bisexuality. Vidal did not want to talk about bisexuality and wanted to talk about politics.

More on this topic coming soon!



1 comment:

  1. One thing that has been depressing me about the online atheist community for awhile now is this very input thing.

    I have seen countless times where "freethinkers" have demanded evidence from people, yet didn't demand evidence for stances that supported their own personal views. When presented with actual evidence that conflicted with their views, they resorted to the same tactics as the people they typically demonize (theists for example).

    On a totally separate note, I have also been thinking about how we are moving away from printed books and how easy it might be in the future for digital evidence to be altered. When evidence can be changed so easily from moment to moment, how do you determine what is true? I think our society is contracting a case of dementia.



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