Thursday, March 30, 2006

Leap Before You Look

I remember years ago reading an article about post-hypnotic suggestion. Though I'm paraphrasing, basically it involved giving someone a PHS (industry lingo) to close a window when the word "dog" was spoken. Sure enough, some time later, someone said, "dog" and the subject rose, crossed to the window and shut it. When asked why, the subject simply replied, "it was a little cold" (or, "It was noisy, etc.")

The simple point I took from this was that regardless of how "irrational" our behavior might be, we will try to make it appear (mostly for our own benefit) rational. There's a word for this -- rationalize. We do it a million times a day, turning some of our sillier actions into something that, to us at least, sounds sensible, if not downright wise.

Since this is a pre-leaving-town-short-entry I'm not going to go into too much detail about how I think our ability to rationalize contributes heavily to most of the human-to-human problems on our planet. For the moment, let's just say that whatever the reason this mechanism exists in our psyches (it probably serves us somehow) it sure mucks things up in a serious way.

Many years ago I was listening to a debate on the abortion issue. It suddenly occurred to me that, despite all the cogent and non-cogent arguments being made, the speakers held their point of view before they made the arguments supporting it. In short, their arguments did not result from a path of observation, followed by thought which led them to a conclusion. Instead, the conclusion led them to their arguments. They were rationalizing, making every attempt to sound -- well -- rational. ("It was cold.")

It didn't take long for me to realize that the vast majority of expressed opinions around us are identically rooted. We begin with a bias which could have its roots in our religious upbringing, our regional upbringing or simply "how we're wired." We take that bias, defend and support it with enough logic to choke even the widest-throated among us. And, sadly, we actually believe that we believe what we do because of those backward-thinking, fill-in-the-holes rationalizations.

I've often commented that I've met very few people who actually use their valid observations of the world around them to form a conclusion (which some would like to dust away as "opinion.") The world surely can't be what we observe (since almost no one observes.) Instead, the world is (or should be) what we need it to be, want it to be, rationalize it to be.

If there's any validity to what I'm saying, it goes a long way to explaining why there is so much pitifully uninspired chatter around us. Thinking may not be in short supply but it would appear that most of it is the work of rationalizing a point of view that we "inherited" somewhere along our journey. I'm not sure if the inability to arrive at a conclusion based on observing the way things work (or don't) is indicative of a lack of intelligence. After all, it takes some amount of quick wit to explain why we responded to a post-hypnotic suggestion.

I'd say more but I'm pressed for time and, besides, there's a lot of noise outside and it's distracting me. Think I'll stop writing and close the window.

2 Comments:

Blogger knowwhereman said...

"...regardless of how "irrational" our behavior might be, we will try to make it appear (mostly for our own benefit) rational."

People wouldn't do this if they didn't care what others thought about them. We rationalize because we want to lend color of authenticity and legitimacy to our thoughts and opinions.
We live our lives in a prison of our own making and under tyranny from masters we empower - those known and unknown people outside ourselves we foolishly elect as judge and jury over our own opinions and beliefs. If one is secure is his/her own beliefs, no rationalization is necessary. Yes,
people do "silly" things. But all we really need to do is skip the rationalizing and just admit
this fact without all the drama.

"We begin with a bias which could have its roots in our religious upbringing, our regional upbringing or simply "how we're wired." We take that bias, defend and support it with enough logic to choke even the widest-throated among us. And, sadly, we actually believe that we believe what we do because of those backward-thinking, fill-in-the-holes rationalizations."

This is call self-delusion and we humans are masters at it. People are so good at lying because we do this all day long in various forms, starting by the flood of daily lies we tell ourselves each morning. If lies were money, we'd all be billionaires.

"If there's any validity to what I'm saying, it goes a long way to explaining why there is so much pitifully uninspired chatter around us."

This era in time is the king of pitifully uninspired chatter,
aka our age's omnipresent
echochamber of shallow, hurtful, childish, foolish and untruthful
background noise of life.
Never have so many words been spoken and been spread so quickly through so many formats with so little of substance being expressed. At least our age will be known for something.

6:56 PM  
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