I’m looking through my notes app and wondering if any thought is worth writing down.

Here is one bullet point from the mess of ideas.

Cognitive constraints and emotional constraints. Want information in order to seem rational and want to feel good about that information. WESTON studies on political affiliation. Brain shuts down distress through faulty reasoning. Made the person feel good to use reasoning, even though it was faulty, to eliminate cognitive conflict.

Maybe you could tell that I was thinking in a specific direction. I’m very concerned with how emotions color reason. And how no one likes to consider him/herself irrational. We like passion, without a doubt, but not many people want to say, “I have no reason to think what I think. In fact, there are plenty of reasons to think the opposite of what I think. I’m completely irrational. Now celebrate me!”

But the problem that seems to come up all too frequently is deciding what we think well before we have any good reason to think whatever it is we think. This comes up in the form of confirmation bias a lot but it’s more subtle than that, as well. It isn’t as simple as ignoring conflicting information, it’s the tendency to reason in a way that doesn’t make sense. According to these studies (the details of which I’ve long forgotten and need to reread), people don’t care if their reasoning is solid or absurd. It looks like reasoning, it sounds like reasoning. It must be a duck.

So I have a stupid belief. I want to feel good about this belief. I want to feel like I have good reason to keep this belief. I want support. I go looking for information like a good little philosopher, and come back with all kinds of data and facts and opinions and ideas. I skim through however much I feel I need in order to support my belief. Panic! There is information that conflicts with my belief. My brain is in distress! Warning! Warning! Conflict! In order to shut off the alarm system, I need logic on my side. “I’m not crazy! Look, I have reasoning!” No matter what the information is, I can skew it to fit my belief. I’ve resolved the conflict without ever actually facing it. I used what resembles critical thinking to convince myself that the belief I already had is, and always was, correct.

The way I think is mostly concerned with conflict. I think those alarm systems should be listened to. What tends to happen is that the alarm is running in the background. Most of this happens unconsciously. We aren’t aware of the warnings and the issue is resolved on its own. (Meaning the brain does what it’s good at, resolves cognitive conflicts.) The only way to become part of the equation is to actively seek out conflicts and allow yourself to sit in them awhile. Marinate in the uncomfortable conflict. Sometimes we have to be alright with being uncomfortable in order to come to a correct conclusion. But it’s more than being alright. (Let me correct myself a moment after making a statement, like an idiot, and not edit this.) We have to find the uncomfortable thoughts in our heads. The ideas and beliefs we hold most dear have to be challenged the hardest. That’s such an uncomfortable thing to do that many people would rather avoid it. (We call it a crisis of faith, not a fun belief challenge time!)

Alright, there’s the first entry in my Expanding on Notes series.


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