Friday, September 20, 2013

Thought for the Day

(Hat tip to Laoch's "Food for Thought" series)

"All of us are subject to the psychological forces at play when it comes to choosing between facts and beliefs when they do not mesh. In the long run, it is better to understand the way the world really is rather than how we would like it to be." ~Michael Shermer

Do you agree?

8 comments:

  1. I think it is better to see things as they really are (although because of our perceptional deficits I accept that is a goal rather than a real possibility). I can, of course, come up with some situations where it may not be true, but I still think it is a useful heuristic from which to try and navigate the world.

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    1. "That is a goal rather than a real possibility." I completely agree. As Suze said, we have so many limits, so much fog between reality and how we perceive reality, that it's very difficult. But simply having that goal changes so much.

      "Heuristic" is a great word, isn't it?

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  2. You would think that kind of logic would make sense, but when you apply people's beliefs and preconceptions/prejudices, it sometimes seems as if two people can be involved in the same situation and come away with two completely different interpretations of what happened. Which one is seeing the world as it really is?

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    1. Good point! It's like that movie Rashomon, where one thing happens and each character has a totally different take. ... Ah! I looked it up and there's even a name for this effect. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rashomon_effect "The Rashomon effect is a term that has been used by a number of different scholars, journalists and film critics to refer to contradictory interpretations of the same events by different persons, a problem that arises in the process of uncovering truth." That is a super-wonky way of saying just what you said. Without other data to corroborate a story, you are indeed left with only subjective impressions, which are even further warped by memory distortion. Usually, however, we do have at least some data to tell us which story hews closer to the truth.

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  3. I think we need to keep a close eye on both. We need to know where we are, but it's good to have a goal for where we want to go.

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    1. I had not thought of it that way! What a nice way of putting it. "How things ought to be" can serve as a roadmap, and reality can flow from it; like a nicer version of self-fulfilling prophecy.

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  4. No. I don't think it's possible to assess things 'as they really are.' Too many filters, inhibitors, built-in cognitive handicaps. I think the best we can do is increase our understanding of these things and leverage that knowledge to maximize our capacity for interacting with 'the world' with optimism, tenderness, mercy, justice and most importantly, joy.

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    1. I agree with you and Laoch that getting to reality is a goal, something we can aim toward but never really arrive at. However, what worries me is how many people throw the whole idea of there BEING a reality out the window: in this view, anyone's wild fantasy is as good as a carefully informed, statistically-backed analysis. Some ways of understanding the world (like science) seem to do a much better job at tamping down those filters, inhibitors, and built-in cognitive handicaps. I think Shermer is saying it's worthwhile at least *trying* to use our rational, slow System 2, rather than giving in completely to our fast, intuitive System 1. We're much likelier to get at justice, as least. The others (optimism, tenderness, mercy, and joy) seem to exist outside either system ... i.e., they can be got at either way. I think. I'd have to crunch some data on that. ;)

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