Cognitive Dissonance

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Cognitive Dissonance

Postby Martin_tu » Thu, 2006-05-25 13:19

Reproduced and adapted from

Cognitive dissonance. Pretty impressive term. It means, simply put, that a sane person cannot hold two conflicting ideas or perceptions (such as 'Gunfree' & 'Self-Defence') in one's brain at the same time:

You cannot think of yourself as both clever and stupid at the same time. One of the conflicting ideas (cognitions) will have to go. To reduce dissonance you might edit memories, censor your sensory perception, re-focus attention - until one of the two conflicting ideas are removed. You will see / hear / feel / smell / remember things only as long as they are congruent (in line with) the belief you choose to accept - ie, you will adopt a cognitive bias to reduce dissonance.

Seeing is not believing - but rather: believing is seeing: We can only see what we already believe. Let`s do that slowly: you can only see what you believe.

Again?: First you believe and THEN you see.

If you made your mind up that you are a genius - you will see (and remember) all the evidence you need to support that belief. If you made up your mind that you are a twit - you will find creative ways to support that belief too.

OK, now you might be thinking that this article is starting to sound suspiciously like a "lets-run-barefoot-over-hot-coals-just-for-kicks" seminar. Well, it`s not and I am not burning incense or making nasal "huuaaaam" sounds whilst writing this.

I am talking cold, hard scientific fact: Your beliefs control your senses and it controls your memory. Lets just get one thing straight before we continue: cognitive bias is completely normal. It is not a mental health problem, so you can just forget about scoring a few days sick leave on the back of this item.

Our brains are designed to reject information that is incompatible with what we already know - that`s why people don`t go "Oh how interesting!" everytime someone makes a convincing argument that -for example:- "more legal guns equals less violent crime".

Given then that we are all "cognitively biased", and all of us are delusional to a greater or lesser degree, what is the relevance of this? Why is it important to know and understand?

Because gentle reader, in this life there are very few things we can control: we cannot control other people, we cannot control the weather and we cannot control the economy or Telkom. But we can control the most important thing of all: our own beliefs.

The brilliant book "The power of positive thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale has been teaching since 1956 that positive thought can change your life - your reality. I don`t think Mr Peale knew why it worked - only that it did. Today we have the science to explain why it works, but most of us have become so cynical that the very idea that "just" our own thoughts can change the world causes a cognitive dissonance and is summarily rejected.

Most of us believe that thoughts are insubstantial - like smoke or ghosts - ineffectual, impotent, vapor - and yet nothing can be further from the truth. Our thoughts are our only reality - and we manufacture it inside our own heads.

Ok, lets just stop for a second. If you do not believe that your thoughts (beliefs) can change your life, then you will not be able to grasp (accept) what I am writing - will you? Your cognitive bias will come to your rescue.

So let`s try something else - a little "trick" that is one of the most important lessons I`ve learned in my life: It goes like this: "In adversity lies opportunity". I understand it to mean that in every problem, in every bad situation there is at least one thing you can win. At least one opportunity to improve, to overcome or to grow.

If people complain about BEE: notice the new customers and tax payers it creates. If South African technology is behind the rest of the world: see the gaps in the local market. If you have problems in your relationship: You can spend time to find just one positive thing you can honestly complement your partner on.

Don`t misunderstand: I am not saying that by believing you can fly you can. Or that thinking happy thoughts will make the bad things disappear.
I am saying that nothing is ever completely black. There is always at least one positive thing - but you will only be able to see it if your belief, your cognitive bias, allows you.

Better to light a candle than to curse the darkness. Welcome the adversity - it brings great opportunities. Make your cognitive dissonance your ally - let your beliefs empower you - let happiness via open, logical and factual thought be your bias in any given proposal.
"I'd rather have a gun and not need it than vice versa."
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