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Fri, 24 Feb 2017
The World for People who Think

Science of the Spirit


Political cognitive dissonance and the psychology of soft slavery

"When a public is stressed and confused, a big lie told repeatedly and unchallenged can become accepted truth." ~George Orwell

The idea of slavery is one of those concepts that has the tendency to be uttered in black and white terms. But slavery is anything but black and white. There are many shades of gray that people tend to neglect, usually out of indifference, but also out of ignorance, or by side-stepping the idea as, "just the way things are." It was a copout during the times of hard slavery and it's a copout now, during these times of soft slavery.

Here's the thing: hard slavery is overt, it's apparent and self-evident. Nothing is hidden. Who the slave and the master are is very clear. Soft slavery on the other hand, is covert. It is neither apparent, nor self-evident. Everything is hidden behind comfort, apathy, security, convenience, indifference, and the illusion of freedom. Who the slave and the master are is not clear and is typically obscured by an unhealthy hierarchy that leads to public confusion between authority based on fear and authority based on free and transparent leadership, which in turn, can lead to a political cognitive dissonance and the pathetic stance of, "It's just the way things are."


Why freedom without virtue is a dangerous thing

Therefore it's a tragedy for both individual freedom and the common good that the word "virtue" has been banished from our vocabulary.

At the heart of all politics is the conflict or at least the tension between individual liberty and the common good. This conflict or tension gives rise to an array of paradoxical questions. To what extent, for instance, does my taking of liberties for myself lead to the taking of liberty from others? Do my rights wrong others? If so, are my rights wrong? These paradoxes present a conundrum that we must answer if we are to find the healthy balance between my rights as an individual and the rights of others. It is the paradox encapsulated by Oscar Wilde when he insisted that anarchy is "freedom's own Judas," or the paradox summarized by Edmund Burke in the maxim that liberty must be limited in order to be possessed, or the paradox insisted upon by Alexander Solzhenitsyn that self-limitation is the heart of all true freedom.

Let's put these paradoxes and these wise men to the test. Does the libertine really enjoy liberty? Is "free love" really free or does it come at a terribly high price?

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Daniel Kahneman: How your cognitive biases act like optical illusions

© Craig Barritt/Getty Images
Daniel Kahneman
Meeting Daniel Kahneman in real life is the psych-nerd equivalent of hanging out with Bob Dylan. Both have recently been awarded Nobel Prizes. Both reformed their fields. While Dylan bulldozed folk and reinvented rock with an electric guitar, Kahneman and his longtime collaborator Amos Tversky employed clever study designs to reveal how misled by intuitions and mental shortcuts — which they termed heuristics — and how reliably irrational humans are. As Michael Lewis details in his new book on their collaboration, The Undoing Project, the duo's research upended foundational assumptions not just in psychology, but economics, medicine, professional sports, and beyond.

This week, I had the privilege of nabbing a half-hour of conversation with Kahneman before he went onstage at a private dinner in Manhattan. One burning question I had is why the mind so constantly cruises to the automatic, unconscious mental shortcuts that he detailed in Thinking, Fast and Slow. To the 82-year-old Princeton psychologist, people think like they see. By recognizing this, you might be a little less likely to fixate on first impressions or fall victim to confirmation bias.

"In visual perception, you have a process that suppresses ambiguity," Kahneman tells Science of Us, "so that a single interpretation is chosen, and you're not aware of the ambiguity."

Comment: More on Kahneman's System 1 and System 2 as described in Thinking, Fast and Slow:
System 1 uses association and metaphor to produce a quick and dirty draft of reality, which System 2 draws on to arrive at explicit beliefs and reasoned choices. System 1 proposes, System 2 disposes. So System 2 would seem to be the boss, right? In principle, yes. But System 2, in addition to being more deliberate and rational, is also lazy. And it tires easily. (The vogue term for this is "ego depletion.") Too often, instead of slowing things down and analyzing them, System 2 is content to accept the easy but unreliable story about the world that System 1 feeds to it.
See also:


Ten Steps to Letting Go of Resentment

Resentment refers to the mental process of repetitively replaying a feeling, and the events leading up to it, that goads or angers us. We don't replay a cool litany of facts in resentment; we re-experience and relive them in ways that affect us emotionally, physiologically, and spiritually in very destructive ways. The inability to overcome resentment probably constitutes the single most devastating impediment to repairing a disintegrating intimate connection, family rift, or severed friendship.

Although resentments may be provoked by recent, specific angry conflicts between two people, they usually encapsulate an enmity that goes much further back. Your parent, child, sibling or partner may accuse you of a recent snub or slight but the venom is more than likely fueled by years of other imagined or real episodes of disrespect or disregard. For example, your spouse may become enraged by a broken promise or breach of attentiveness, but if they can't let go of it, it's probably ignited by a long history of neglect, exasperation, and frustration. Your parent or sibling may accuse you of forgetting an event like their birthday, but again, the most recent accusation is just the trigger for these feelings. The strong reaction of resentment almost never appears to be warranted by what sets it off. It's always the product of a long history of backed-up unhappiness. What causes the unhappiness that underlies resentment?

Comment: Here is some additional food for thought and what Carlos Castaneda had to say on the matter of Self-Importance, which ties into resentment in that a core issue of both is being offended, upset, hurt, angry or resentful, etc. at others:
Self-importance is our greatest enemy. Think about it--what weakens us is feeling offended by the deeds and misdeeds of our fellow men. Our self-importance requires that we spend most of our lives offended by someone.

Every effort should be made to eradicate self-importance from the lives of warriors. Without self-importance we are invulnerable.

Self-importance can't be fought with niceties.

Seers are divided into two categories. Those who are willing to exercise self-restraint and can channel their activities toward pragmatic goals, which would benefit other seers and man in general, and those who don't care about self-restraint or about any pragmatic goals. The latter have failed to resolve the problem of self-importance.

Self-importance is not something simple and naive. On the one hand, it is the core of everything that is good in us, and on the other hand, the core of everything that is rotten. To get rid of the self-importance that is rotten requires a masterpiece of strategy.

In order to follow the path of knowledge one has to be very imaginative. In the path of knowledge nothing is as clear as we'd like it to be. Warriors fight self-importance as a matter of strategy, not principle.

Impeccability is nothing else but the proper use of energy. My statements have no inkling of morality. I've saved energy and that makes me impeccable. To understand this, you have to save enough energy yourself.

Warriors take strategic inventories. They list everything they do. Then they decide which of those things can be changed in order to allow themselves a respite, in terms of expending their energy.

The strategic inventory covers only behavioral patterns that are not essential to our survival and well-being.

In the strategic inventories of warriors, self-importance figures as the activity that consumes the greatest amount of energy, hence, their effort to eradicate it.


Think you're great at multitasking? Surprise - you are probably less efficient and may even be damaging your brain

© Getty
You may have heard that multitasking is bad for you, but studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Every time you multitask you aren't just harming your performance in the moment; you may very well be damaging an area of your brain that's critical to your future success at work.

Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.

Comment: Multi-tasking also increases the chance of making mistakes, missing important information and cues. Multi-taskers are also less likely to retain information in working memory, which can hinder problem solving and creativity.


Is vengeance really sweet? Researchers uncover the mood-enhancing effects of revenge

© British Psychological Society
When we feel ostracised, we're more likely to behave aggressively. Previous research suggests that vengeance on those who we think have wronged us can be driven by a sense of justice, and may activate neural reward centres. But being ostracised can also lead to generalised aggression, even lashing out at unrelated people, so there seems to be more going on. In new research in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Chester and C. Nathan DeWall tested the idea that social rejection, by making us feel wounded and unwanted, triggers a need to repair our mood by whatever means available, including through the satisfaction of causing harm to those who have made us suffer. They found that aggression can indeed be a viable method of mood repair.

The researchers asked 156 participants to write an essay on a personal topic, then to swap their essays with other participants to receive feedback on what they'd written. One group of participants received nasty feedback (actually composed by the researchers): "one of the worst essays I have EVER read". Chester and DeWall measured mood before and after participants were given the chance to express a symbolic form of aggression: sticking pins in a virtual voodoo doll imagined as the person who had given them mean feedback. This act of (un)sympathetic magic did indeed repair mood for the rejected participants, to the point where their mood was indistinguishable from participants who'd received nice feedback.

But just because revenge can boost our mood doesn't mean that we behave aggressively because we're seeking that better mood. To investigate motives, the researchers next invited 154 participants to the lab and gave each a pill, telling them it would enhance their thinking for the tests to come. Some of the participants were further told that the pill had a peculiar side-effect: once it kicked in, their mood would become fixed and unchanging (all these claims about the pill were a fiction, it was an inert placebo).

Comment: Accepting criticism with dignity and calm reflection is a sign of maturity. Revenge, in any case, is more of the bittersweet variety. It may feel good in the short term but leads to stagnation, not growth.


The Worry Solution: Using your mind to turn anxiety to calmness

Worry may well be one of the most common causes of suffering in America. Besides being troublesome in and of itself, worry is also a contributing factor for overeating, alcoholism, smoking, drug abuse and many other compulsive disorders.

In this interview, Dr. Martin Rossman, author of "The Worry Solution" book and CD set, provides simple and practical tools for addressing chronic worry. Rossman has a long-standing interest in the practical importance of attitudes, beliefs and emotions in mind-body medicine.

His awareness of the impact of worry came early in his career. After graduating from medical school in 1969 and finishing his internship at a county clinic in Oakland, California, he ran an urban house call practice for about a year and a half.

He initially started doing house calls in order to find out why people were having such problems implementing healthy lifestyle changes.

Comment: More information on the many ways we can use our minds to induce healing:


The most useful life skills every 20-something should master

Your 20s can be a confusing time.

You might not be in school anymore, but you still have plenty to learn before you're a fully functioning adult.

Meaning now, you're on your own.

To help you navigate this tricky decade, we reviewed several Quora threads on helpful skills and ways to spend time in your 20s and highlighted the most useful insights.

Here are the life skills every 20-something should master.

1. How to just be honest

When you're late to an appointment, it's tempting to pin the blame on gridlock or train delays.

Instead, says Quora user Michael Hoffman, "just apologise. You don't have to give details. 'I planned poorly' is a hundred times better than risking your integrity by inanely blaming traffic."

2. How to receive criticism

No one likes to be told they're wrong or even that they could be doing something more effectively. As Abhinav Gupta writes, it's easy to resent the person critiquing you or completely ignore them.

Nonetheless, Gupta says, "in order to succeed in life you should always accept criticism and always respond positively to it and never think ill of people who point out your mistakes."

Comment: Sage advice in the era of precious snowflake millenials.

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Questioning the consensus: Maybe we can't really measure "implicit bias"

© Jordin Isip / The Chronicle Review
I harbor a moderate preference for white faces. You probably do, too: About 70 percent of people who take the race version of the Implicit Association Test show the same tendency — that is, they prefer faces with typically European-American features over those with African-American features. Since it first went online in 1998, millions have visited Harvard's Project Implicit website, and the results have been cited in thousands of peer-reviewed papers. No other measure has been as influential in the conversation about unconscious bias.

That influence extends well beyond the academy. The findings come up often in discussions of police shootings of black men, and the concept of implicit bias circulated widely after Hillary Clinton mentioned it during the presidential campaign. The test provides scientific grounding for the idea that unacknowledged prejudice often lurks just below society's surface. "When we relax our active efforts to be egalitarian, our implicit biases can lead to discriminatory behavior," according to the Project Implicit website, "so it is critical to be mindful of this possibility if we want to avoid prejudice and discrimination."

In other words, beware your inner bigot.

But the link between unconscious bias, as measured by the test, and biased behavior has long been debated among scholars, and a new analysis casts doubt on the supposed connection.


Is it possible to get narcissists to feel empathy?

© Flickr/ihave3kids
A simple technique to help narcissists develop more fellow-feeling. Narcissists aren't much interested in other people's suffering, or, for that matter, any of other people's feelings.

Erica Hepper, the author of a new study on the subject, explains that narcissists are:
"A bit full of themselves, self-centered, and don't seem too concerned about the effects they have on other people."
New research by Hepper and colleagues shows, though, that narcissists can be made to feel empathy, if given a nudge in the right direction (Hepper et al., 2014).

In the study, participants were split into two groups: 'low narcissists' and 'high narcissists'. Those high on narcissism in this study were not considered to have a clinical disorder.