||[Apr. 18th, 2011|06:09 pm]
|[||Tags|||||barmy, cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, conscience, david brin, dunning-kruger effect, existentialism, flunking philosophy, overthinking, sartre, weakly understood existentialism||]|
|||||Sophia (home computer)||]|
|||||Regrets, by Ben Folds Five||]|
Let it be known I am no expert in religion, philosophy or psychology. I'm also one of those people who feels expertise counts for something. (Yes, one of those people.)
I'm also no expert in politics, though, and that doesn't stop me from writing on the subject. It just makes me a layman.
Heck, I don't even have a styles manual on hand, so I'm probably going to do a terrible job of citing sources.
For quite a while now, I've been troubled by the frailties of my mind. The popular subjects have been cognitive dissonance, confirmation bias, and the Dunning-Kruger effect.
From their paper on the subject in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, the authors state:
"People tend to hold overly favorable views of their abilities in many social and intellectual domains. The authors suggest that this overestimation occurs, in part, because people who are unskilled in these domains suffer a dual burden: Not only do these people reach erroneous conclusions and make unfortunate choices, but their incompetence robs them of the metacognitive ability to realize it."
Confirmation bias is, as I understand it, the tendency to disregard evidence that pass before our senses but are at odds with what we already believe, while granting sometimes too much credit to evidence that supports what we already believe. I'm too lazy to cite a source here. That makes me a bad person.
The easiest example of the damning effects of poorly resolved cognitive dissonance is the fable of the fox and the grapes, from which we derive the phrase, 'sour grapes.' For reference, see the appropriate story. I recommend Project Gutenberg, and this URL: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21/21-h/21-h.htm#2H_4_0210
I've not been entirely comfortable with the fact that not only could I be wrong, but I may not even have the freedom of will to accept that I am wrong. When I'm wrong, and when evidence states that I'm wrong, I'd very much like to be able to know it!
For what it's worth, though, Dr. David Brin says through his character Dr. Jen Wolling in the book Earth (Brin, David, Bantam Spectra, 1990), "Look at the happiest, sanest people you've known, Nelson. Really listen to them. I bet you'll find they don't fear a little inconsistency or uncertainty now and then. ... They are content to be many."
I am many, and a good deal of what I am, I do not admire. However, those parts of me do not say "I." Those bits and pieces of me are the foundation of a small part of me which does say "I am," and for now I have the presumed ability to choose my actions freely.
A part of my troubles derives from my impression that, as Sartre put it in Being And Nothingness, "Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." That's right. I'm suffering the classic problem that I am comprised of things many of which I do not admire, and that I find myself wanting to be admirable! Of course I recognize that there are admirable motives in be that likewise fall below the threshold of conscious decision, such as the guilt I feel when I do not help a person and the relief I feel when I do. These can be reinforced by culture and upbringing, but they have potentially as much to do with our nature as our nurture.
However, the same philosophy dictates that even as I am responsible, I am also free. I have no choice but to be responsible for my mistakes, but I am allowed to value that which says "therefore I am." Only collectively can we decide what we value anyway, and I say, let us value that! If there's hope for us, if there's hope for me, it lies as much there as anywhere.
I may or may not be a good person.
I arbitrarily determine that the part of me which thinks itself rational is valuable and meaningful, even if it is sometimes confused. Now and then, I should decide to listen when it says it's okay.
1. Kruger, Justin; David Dunning (1999). "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 77 (6): 1121–34. doi:10.1037/0022-35220.127.116.111. PMID 10626367. http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.64.2655&rep=rep1&type=pdf. Accessed Monday, April 18th, 2011.
2. Brin, David (1989). "Part XI: Planet". Earth: 690. June 1991. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 90-4. This citation protected by Fair Use doctrine as commentary on the cited work.
* Brin reads a snippet from Earth: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bJXXab5ITpM
* The Fox and the Grapes: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/21/21-h/21-h.htm#2H_4_0210