It makes me feel neurotic

I am fascinated by human behavior, especially the irrational, contradictory behavior. I see it in myself and it bothers me. I know that others are also irrational and contradictory, but it’s hard to tell how unsettled they are about it. Perhaps some don’t even care. In this vein, I’m following up on my previous post The Truth Doesn’t Matter.

To recap, the ideological perspective that you hold influences what you see to the point that reality is (at least partly) obscured.

I think we do this for various reasons.

1) It takes a lot of work to construct a unified vision of the world. Once it’s in place, you don’t really want to change it around too much.

2) People are uncomfortable with uncertainty. I can relate.

3) Having to change your mind every time you sit down to watch the news, not only requires work to unify all the contradictory elements, but it also implies that you were wrong. No one likes to be wrong. It suggests that you’re stupid.

4) Information overload. There is so much “information” out there coming at you from all directions, a veritable bombardment. There is no way for you to research every little thing that some talking head spouts off.

5) misinformation. And consequently, there is so much BS out there, that yes, you can find support for any wacky conspiracy theory you want to believe in.

6) We are lazy. With all the things you could be wasting your time with, who could be so anal as to go research and confirm every little opinion or thought that occurs to you? It’s very time consuming. (Yes, that an admission of sorts.)

And this brings me to cognitive dissonance. Having heard the term “cognitive dissonance” batted around for some time, I decided I should actually try to learn a little more about it.

In short cognitive dissonance is the uncomfortable feeling you get when you have two contradictory thoughts, images or ideas. This article explains it very well using the example of “I like ice cream” and “I want to lose weight”. Essentially, the feeling of discomfort is very strong and as a consequence, we attempt to avoid it using a variety of means.

The whole concept is very interesting and insightful. A lot of irrational, emotional, and addictive behavior can thus be explained, and this also ties in to the “Truth doesn’t matter” piece. One of the strategies used to reduce or eliminate cognitive dissonance is to ignore information that contradicts the things we find most important.

We all experience cognitive dissonance and probably many times per day, but how aware of it are you? How do you deal with it? I’ve noticed it in myself for a long time now, and it nice to have a proper name for it, but being aware that it’s happening isn’t a panacea. it does not resolve the conflict. Most of the time it makes me feel neurotic, and out of control.


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