Cognitive Dissonance

I want to make the point that experiencing cognitive dissonance doesn't mean that you're necessarily wrong. All it means is that you've been presented with information that, were you to accept it as true, would disrupt your previous assumptions and cognitive processes.

If you're ever in an argument with someone and you get the upper hand don't get smug. Even if you revealed an internal contradiction in their reasoning, or introduced some new information they were ignorant of, even if they get flustered and start to stutter or call you names, don't. You are less heroic in that moment than you think, and they are less pathetic.

Because I'm damn sure you've experienced the same thing. You got angry or scared at some jerk who just wanted to fuck with your deeply held beliefs, or you were embarrassed that you don't have a counter-point ready. You simply lost.

But did this have a bearing on what you believe in now? Even if both of you were sincerely trying to come to a consensus and not just having a tribal rumble, nobody changes their mind that easily. What you probably did instead was you immediately sought comfort. You immersed yourself in comfortable, familiar opinions for a while, by talking to your friends you know agree with you, or you re-read for the fiftieth time a particularly damning treatise on why the other guys are all wrong by your favorite author. It's only natural-- the brain is just like any other organ, it can feel fatigue and even, in an abstract sense, injury, and it needed time to recover.

Later on, you may have come up with ways to work around this new information, a "new counter," scar tissue, but your overall stance, your assessment of what should be done in the real world, almost certainly didn't change.

We are nowhere near as good at sussing out the truth as we think we are. Even without these cognitive biases and mental shortcuts, we are all one-eyed, one-armed amputees with a bad case of the shakes trying to assemble a 10,000 piece puzzle of a Paul Bilhaud painting. If we followed the rules it would be unproductive enough, but instead we started forcing the pieces together, using scotch tape to hold them if necessary, and we squabble with others for stealing the pieces we "need" to finish.


The human brain has no inherent ability to distinguish falsity from truth other than by comparison to other things.

Think about what it would be like if everyone around you decided to play a practical joke, and agree to try and get you to believe and obvious lie. Just one day your best friend would say something offhand-- "The sky is purple." You might correct them, you might go to everyone you know and tell them what a jerk that guy was, and they may even agree, except, "yeah, the sky is purple. So what?"

For weeks, they kept it up. You'd ask again in a month, after you're sure the joke is over-- without missing a beat, without any tells that gave them away, they'd just reply... "Augh, this again? Are you crazy? The sky is purple!"

You'd get paint swatches, and match them to the sky. Show them to your friends. "Yeah. This swatch is blue. But make no mistake the sky is purple."

Even if you were on to them, even if they'd done this kind of thing before, you'd still doubt your sanity, even if just that little bit. It's such an unimportant thing, but you'll get pissed every single time.

The human mind is made to find patterns, match like-with-like. Contradictory information, without any kind of thought process to make sense of and classify it (e.g. "liberals are crazy, so information from them is unreliable,") you get extremely uncomfortable.

You are made of...?

I think humans are prey animals whose main strategy for survival is situational awareness. Understanding what's safe, and what's hazardous. And it's not just about knowing where the lions roam, or where the thick undergrowth gives way to a sheer cliff. A big factor in your survival is knowing where you stand within your social group. Who's in charge, who you need to please, who decides if you get to sleep next to the fire this winter.

Being on the margins of your social group was, in our Yanomami past, dangerous. You'll be the last to hear about dangers, and the last person anyone thinks of when there's food to share. If nobody wants you to sleep near them, you'll be the easiest target for some stalking jungle predator.

It's been deprived of most of its harm now, but the bullying and ostracizing of a weak child by the stronger children was serious business. Nobody wants a weakling around. Nobody wants to risk their life helping the clumsy one off the ground. You don't want to be overtaken by a predator because you had to wait for the poor unfit runt who couldn't keep up. So you made it clear you didn't like them because of their failings. Not only did it remove the threat they posed from your group asap, but portraying them as someone--something-- that's not worth your trouble, you felt less grief when they did finally die.

Some days you want him to live... Some days you don't.

It's not to say everyone is a self-centered monster all the time, which is why I chose that video to demonstrate it. Gilbert Grape is a really good person, but even he displays this tendency-- and it's completely justified. You can sympathize with him doing so. Donnie just needs so much from him, and his ability to give is limited.


People need to understand that we are animals. We are not special. To a huge extent it's inevitable. Just like you shouldn't be surprised that a cat you bring into your home pisses all over everything, you shouldn't be surprised that people each have their own perception of reality, shaped and misshapen by both experiences and temperament.

WRT to header image: Has nothing to do with the subject. It's there because fucking like it, OK?